If marketing is a war for eyeballs and attention, the battle on the electronic front is shifting to much smaller screens. 2019 is marking the first time that American consumers will spend more of their day looking at their mobile devices than their TV screens. This will further encourage the continuing migration of advertising dollars towards channels that hardly existed a decade ago in the forms they do now, from digital video to social media advertising.
“We’ve expected that mobile would overtake TV for a while, but seeing it happen is still surprising.”
— Yoram Wurmser, eMarketer
eMarketer is predicting that this year the trend of usage of mobile devices compared to TV viewing will trade places. The average American adult will spend 3 hours, 43 minutes with their smart phone or tablet, just a wink beyond the 3 hours, 35 minutes spent on TV. Of the mobile device time, on average nearly three hours will be spent on smartphones.
Taken as a whole, this is interesting when one considers that together both habits add up to nearly a third of one’s day, and about half of one’s waking hours, if one gets eight hours of sleep a night. This would seem to render Big Tech firms’ attempts to help consumers control their screen time pretty much moot.
The research firm further predicts that growth of mobile device time will continue, as time spent on TV continues to dwindle by comparison, at least through 2021.
“We’ve expected that mobile would overtake TV for a while,” observes Yoram Wurmser, Principal Analyst at eMarketer, “but seeing it happen is still surprising. As recently as 2014, the average U.S. adult watched nearly two hours more TV than they spent on their phones.”
Consumers Favor Apps on Mobile Devices over Web Browsing
eMarketer reports that the bulk of the time spent on mobile devices is devoted to viewing and using apps, rather than the machines’ web browser.
In its Mobile Ad Context Report, AKI Technologies indicates that the top ten types of apps downloaded by consumers are, in descending order, games, social networking, shopping, music, weather, entertainment, news, health/fitness, video, and finance. Among app categories less frequently downloaded are travel, sports, lifestyle, and reference types.
However, in its research, eMarketer found that the greatest part of the typical consumer’s actual “screentime,” as opposed to downloads, goes to digital audio —podcasts and music, for example — followed by social media use. eMarketer has also found less and less mobile time being spent on tablets, with consumers favoring smartphone use by a wide margin.
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Spending Gets Bigger on Messaging Via Smaller Screens
As consumers’ attention increasingly shifts to the small screen of the mobile device, advertisers are spending two-thirds of their digital marketing budgets on mobile advertising placements in 2019, according the eMarketer. (Most of the references to the research firm’s work in this article come from its Mobile Marketing Trends 2019 Roundup.) Spending on mobile ads pulled ahead of spending on other digital ad channels beginning in 2015. eMarketer says that spending on search advertising and display advertising heavily favor the mobile channel.
A report by Wurmser indicates that mobile ad spending in 2019 is going to top $93 billion, over $20 billion more than allocated for other digital channels. A separate report by the firm indicates that the U.S. financial services industry is increasing spending on digital advertising to $15.7 billion in 2019 — an increase of almost 19%.
“Financial services advertisers continue to rely heavily on mobile and search [engine marketing] as their digital ad budgets grow,” says analyst Ross Benes. “Financial services advertisers are turning to mobile, search, and social ads to make their products more accessible to younger audiences.”
One exception to the overall dominance of mobile spending concerns video ads. At present, mobile takes second place in the video category to other digital channels, 45.6% to 54.4%. However, by 2023 eMarketer is predicting that the situation will reverse, with mobile edging just over half of the spending on video.
The eMarketer report notes that spending on social media video, a growing feature on several platforms, is an exception to the present trend towards video spending on non-mobile channels. The report credits this almost entirely to Facebook activity.
So, why is video ad spending still favoring digital channels besides mobile devices? eMarketer credits this to “OTT” — Over the Top video, which is streaming video delivered to consumers via the internet. This category includes both advertising-supported streaming, such as on Amazon’s IMDb Freedive service, and services such as Netflix, which are free of paid ads. Some other services fall into both categories, depending on the level the consumer subscribes to.
The comparison is a bit inexact, the report notes, because some streaming is viewed on smartphones and such. But it quotes research by another firm indicating that over half is still viewed on a TV of some kind.
Social media usage, compared to other online activities, increasingly moves in the direction of mobile. eMarketer’s report indicates that more and more social media users favor mobile devices for this activity, and finds that just over half of users polled participate on social media platforms only via mobile devices. The report points out that some platforms favor mobile — users can only post on Instagram with a mobile device, though they can view posts on a computer.
How Can Marketers Get Their Messages Through?
One wrinkle in all this concerns the ultimate aim of marketing, successfully transmitting a message of some kind to a consumer, in hopes of ushering them into the sales funnel.
While more money is being spent on mobile, how effectively it is being spent is another matter.
“Smartphones and tablets launched a massive shift in consumer behavior seemingly overnight, promising brands unprecedented access to consumers,” states the AKI report cited earlier. “But that 24/7 access set the stage for inefficiency — poorly timed ads were easily ignored or, worse, created friction with consumers. Marketers were challenged to pay closer attention the context of their advertising, and more specifically, to when mobile consumers will pay attention to an ad, and what variables influence their likelihood to notice and/or engage with that ad.”
Interestingly, the research finds that three out of five respondents feel that ads placed on free apps are on par, in terms of quality, with ads placed on paid apps. In other words, for over half of consumers, there’s no gain in credibility for financial marketers in picking the paid app. Pretty much the same portion of the sample felt that there is no difference.
AKI makes the point in its report that there’s a tradeoff going on. Consumers have gone beyond “appointment media,” where you had to reach them at a given time, like primetime, for maximum reach. Now, the report states, they have gone to “virtually constant consumption, anytime, anywhere.”
The tradeoff is that just putting your message in the accepted slot doesn’t get the job done anymore. The report suggests that figuring out what marketing messages, what products and services, and what kind of ad experience is acceptable at what time has been an essential skill.
The firm’s research finds that the consumer’s location at the time of seeing an ad is a minor factor, but about a third say that matching their mood, their current activity, and the theme of the kind of app they are viewing will help the message register. Further, the most important factor is matching the consumer’s interests: 72% say that helps them notice an ad, and 66% say that’s when they are most likely to tap an ad.
So care in buying ranks supreme. “The ‘spray and pray’ approach to mobile leaves marketers vulnerable to waste,” the report advises.