Mobile advertising and tablet advertising: They’re not the same thing

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Tablet advertising is still in its infancy – the iPad is only three years old, after all – but it has quickly become clear that the gadgets are an ideal advertising platform. IAB Australia said last week that spending on tablet-based ads has tripled over the last year and actually exceeded smartphone advertising for the first time. Nielsen reported earlier this year that 24 percent of tablet owners click ads on their devices, more than doubling the click-through rate of smartphone users. And Deloitte has predicted that tablet advertising revenues will substantially outpace smartphone ad dollars this year and will build on that lead next year.

Interestingly, though, market research firms and industry pundits (including me, sometimes) to lump advertising smartphones and tablets together in the broader category of “mobile.” For example, eMarketer cited the increasing attractiveness of display inventory on tablets when it ratcheted up its forecast for overall U.S. mobile ad spending. While that’s generally a pretty harmless practice, interactive marketers need to be aware that there are some big differences between the two platforms.

Bigger screens mean less mobility but more compelling ads

While it’s become a cliché, smartphones truly are connected almost all the time: Unless they’re on a plane, in the boondocks or in the subway they are constantly accessing at least one network. ABI Research estimated that in 2011 that only 27 percent of tablets sold worldwide offered support for 3G or 4G networks, and Chetan Sharma has reported that 90 percent of tablet owners use Wi-Fi exclusively even if their devices are cellular-enabled.

So while tablets are often referred to as mobile devices – and even as they become smaller and more portable — they’re primarily used the same way we use laptops or notebooks. We pull them out while we’re at home on the couch or occasionally in the office, or maybe in a bar or coffee shop. (That explains why PC sales have begun to plummet as the tablet market soars.) Also, while we typically use our smartphones for productivity – to check email or text messages, for instance, or view our calendars – tablets are often used for gaming, video consumption, reading magazines or shopping. Which might mean that tablet users are more likely to be receptive to ads in the first place. And tablets obviously can deliver more immersive, more interactive ads thanks to their big, vivid screens where navigation is more accurate and display ads don’t necessarily result in cluttered screens.

The limitless opportunities of true mobile advertising

It’s probably no surprise, then, that tablet ad revenues are already catching up to smartphone ad dollars. But true mobile advertising probably still has more potential over the long haul. Because they’re constantly connected to the network, smartphones can combine location information with search histories, social media activity and other data to deliver highly targeted ads that can actually bring value to consumers. Those ads will eventually be integrated with mobile payments, enabling users to manage their loyalty programs, coupons and other marketing goodies to “close the loop” with the mobile wallet at the point of sale itself. And while tablets are often shared among friends or family members – ask any parent of young children – the smartphone is a much more personal device and therefore a better fit for those targeted messages.

So advertisers generally should employ different strategies for tablet ad campaigns than they do for smartphone ad campaigns. Retailers trying to drum up foot traffic from nearby users are likely to find that smartphones are a better vehicle for their purposes, while tablet ads could be much more effective for online retailers and big-budget branding campaigns. Banner-based video ads might be ideal to plug a new Hollywood flick, but click-to-call paid search ads are probably a much better fit for the local pizza joint. Regardless of what you’re trying to sell, though, it’s crucial to remember that tablets and smartphones each have their own strengths and weaknesses as marketing tools – even if we continue to put both of them under the mobile advertising umbrella.

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