Henry Ford famously said, "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." When Apple's iPad -- the Model T of the tablet world -- was first introduced, it fulfilled an unforeseen need in consumers' lives much like the automobile did a century ago.
Yet in the last year alone, we've seen tablet prevalence explode, resulting in a subsequent shift in the underlying reasons behind why consumers purchase, and how they use, their devices. Current data provides evidence of this growing trend -- eMarketer predicts that more than 50 percent of internet users will access the web via their tablets by 2015, a major jump from the 12 percent of U.S. tablet owners only a couple of years ago.
Naturally, this creates a lucrative opportunity for advertisers. Superior touch-enabled functionality and screen size allow for new and exciting ways to engage with consumers. That said, one of the biggest challenges for marketers is creating rich, meaningful experiences across an increasingly fragmented tablet marketplace.
Although the iPad can be credited with creating initial tablet demand, it shed light on a global market of consumers with fundamentally different wants and needs. The Vivitar XO Learning Tablet, for example, is known for its kid-friendly design and affordable price point, while the Razer Edge was developed with hardcore gaming in mind.
Audience fragmentation isn't a new phenomenon, but it has significantly affected the way consumers engage with tablets. Advertisers vying to capitalize on defined markets -- the consumers who uses their tablets to scan news and information, to shop for blinds, or to book a five-star getaway -- will have to pay close attention to how consumer behavior, as well as the market share of various tablets, continues to evolve.
Too often, advertisers fall back on cookie-cutter media plans meant to satisfy the so-called "mass market" when, in reality, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. The demographic breakdown of tablet ownership runs the gamut; the small business owner in Ohio is as likely to own a tablet as the Fortune 500 CEO in Manhattan.
To navigate the fragmented market, advertisers must first identify the kinds of consumers they want to target, and then create relevant ad experiences that speak to those consumers. These preliminary efforts lay the groundwork for a campaign that truly delivers. As the eMarketer report goes on to suggest, a well-executed tablet campaign is approximately twice as likely as a traditional mobile campaign to drive online ad awareness (43 percent and 25 percent, respectively), purchase intent (24 percent and 11 percent), and brand favorability (17 percent and 9 percent).
Regardless of their potential reach, the efficacy of tablet ads depends on the overall execution of a campaign itself. One of the biggest mistakes a marketer can make is distributing an irrelevant ad that disrupts the user experience. It's probably safe to say that an ad for a luxury sports car, for instance, doesn't belong among content geared toward pregnant women. It should be no secret that content that the user finds appropriate, relevant, and timely will be most likely to cement a meaningful connection between the brand and its targeted consumer.
Tablet usage is evolving at warp speed, making it one of the most thrilling new media through which to deliver ads that can excite and delight users. The tablet's appeal is not unlike that of traditional, full-page magazine ads. Similar to thumbing the pages of a physical publication, tablet ads can be relevant and tightly integrated within the user experience.
The mobile space will only continue to change, and advertisers must focus on opportunities that both complement and amplify existing audience behaviors. Marketers who embrace this change might find that the tablet offers a noteworthy alternative to the forced, obtrusive nature of existing digital and mobile ad offerings.
Zach Kubin is director of client development for Onswipe.
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