It is certainly not surprising or newsworthy to say that mobile usage is widespread and increasing rapidly. According to recent comScore data, time spent on smartphones has increased 394 percent since 2010, with time spent on tablets increasing 1,721 in that same period. The same data also suggests that 13 percent of the total population is using a mobile device as their only means of accessing the internet, with 25 percent of people ages 18 to 24 observed as mobile-only. To stress that point: Advertisers, this means that one out of every four people ages 18 to 24 will not see any of your digital advertising if it is targeted only to desktop users.
It makes sense to assume that with this huge spike in time spent by consumers across mobile platforms, advertisers must be vying aggressively to develop cutting-edge strategies to address this growing market. The unfortunate reality is that over the past years, ad spend on mobile simply has not matched the growing amount of time spent by consumers on the platform. Interestingly, however, a recent eMarketer report says that while every year of the past decade has at one point been labeled "the year of mobile," 2016 might just be the first year that mobile advertising spend in the U.S. overtakes spending on desktop.
So what's changing? What might be leading to the tipping point when advertisers begin to focus on mobile as the driver for their digital campaigns?
Well, let's take a look at what role "mobile" plays in the life of a consumer. There's a good chance you're reading this article on a smartphone or tablet. Perhaps you are even seated on your living room couch, occasionally glancing at that seemingly antiquated desktop accumulating dust across the room. The fact is, you don't have to physically be mobile in order to find reasons to use a mobile device. You might watch a bedtime Netflix movie on your iPad rather than turning on the TV. You might follow a recipe on your smartphone while cooking, rather than reading about it on your work computer and going home to try it out. These are things that make you "mobile," at least in the eyes of the ad serving world. Of course, while being on a mobile device might not specifically mean you are "on the go," what it does mean is that you are engaging content in a more personalized way than you might have five years ago.
What publishers are beginning to learn, through market experience, is that consumers have a lower tolerance for disruption in this more personal environment. Mobile cannot simply be treated in the same way as desktop. It is an entirely different way of ingesting media. It's a physically smaller environment and thus more intimate. The mobile experience should be specifically designed for that setting. Rethought IAB units like the 320x50 were a good way to start transitioning from desktop to mobile, but offering a smaller version of standard display units is not going to convince decision makers to embark on a major market shift toward mobile.
In a related truth, if your Google Alert is set to catch articles written about "native advertising" or "mobile" (and there is a strong chance if it's set to one, it is set to the both), then you have had a lot of reading to do in recent days. Like so many seemingly out-of-no-where-to-take-over-the-landscape trends in our fluid industry, native ads for mobile are having their 15 minutes of digital fame. And for good reason.
Native advertising, in general, has experienced a resurgence of late due largely to the advances in ad serving technology that have allowed it to be more seamlessly and contextually integrated with website copy. Once native advertising found its way into the programmatic world, though, it could finally compete against banner advertising at scale and across platforms. With its inherent strength as a less disruptive tactic, native has become an increasing symbiotic partner of mobile, each seeing significant spending increases.
While native advertising has been a good catalyst for growing mobile budgets, the only thing that will really move the needle in a permanent way is consistent results that prove the mobile experience can lead to closer relationships between brands and users. The opportunity is that strategies designed from a real mobile-first philosophy can leverage the sense of personalization consumers expect when immersed in a mobile environment and truly move the ad spend needle. There are some very interesting mobile-first strategies being tested by the likes of Facebook and BuzzFeed that incorporate time-shifted viewing of ads and real interactive experiences. Smart publishers with an eye on the future should take the hint. The future of mobile is the death of disruption.
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