One of the critical aspects of mobile media, especially tablet-based apps and sites, is their astounding levels of engagement. I will forever recall when Conde Nast’s Director of Editorial Operations Rick Levine first shared with me the early stats on tablet magazine app usage months after the iPad first launched. I went back and asked him to confirm that indeed the time spent metrics for these early apps like GQ on iPad really were approaching the hour+-per-issue engagements the magazine industry historically had seen in print. They were true, he assured me and I was not the only one who was astonished.
These are the metrics that lit the fire at print companies, because they suggested that devices could fix something the Web had broken: engagement. Many of these brands had been accustomed to spending an hour or more a month with consumers as they thumbed through the issues. On the Web those same media brands were lucky to get a quarter or less of that attention.
That basic fact about digital is what continued to frustrate traditional content providers for years. Device-bound extensions of their brand, sometimes even on smart phones, were showing remarkable levels of involvement, user frequency, content drilling. And while few of them would be caught saying so in public, the mobile metrics were making them re-evaluate their investment in the Web. Maybe the desktop was not the best place to engage users after all? Maybe, just maybe, all of this content media had been pouring into our Web browsers for a decade and a half actually was meant to be consumed in situations and modes of use where we could actually enjoy consuming them again? Maybe, just maybe, the rise of mobile was exposing a dirty little secret about the Web: we were “addicted” to something we really didn’t enjoy all that much.
This idea came up this week at the OMMA Display event. In one of the more spirited and candid sessions I have seen in this event season, we posed a provocative question: “Resolved: DSP/Tech-Driven Targeting is a DR Model That Can’t Attract Serious Brand Efforts.” Led by the always energetic and fully engaged Colin Gillis of BGC Partners, Y&R’s Thom Kennon, Simulmedia’s Dave Morgan, Traffiq’s Eric Picard, Horizon’s Mary Shirley and AKQA’s Scott Symonds argued the points about whether Web display really had succeeded in its longstanding goal of getting brands to invest seriously in online display formats.
There was disagreement, of course, but one of the themes that kept coming up was the impact device-based Internet access would have on our perceptions of Web ad effectiveness. In previous events on ad technology in the last few years, the mantra was predictable and persistent: the branding dollars will come. This time I heard much more candid admissions here and there that the online ad system may well be “broken” in its reliance on networked impression-based display.
Kennon and Morgan seemed to form a tag team in agreeing that the problem with attracting brands to online advertising has as much to do with the platform as with the methods. The tendency of the online display industry has been to believe that cracking the brand advertising code was really a matter of better targeting and richer online experiences. But maybe it is situational.
As one of the veterans in the display space and leader of both Real Media and Tacoda, Dave argued that the technology to tell richer brand stories has always been present online. The issue is the platform, whether the lean-in, generally investigative mode of Web involvement is really conducive to receiving brand stories – or not. Dave, of course, is working in the addressable TV space now, so he now has a lean-back horse in this race. But Thom quickly amended and extended the sentiment by pointing out how post-desktop media would change the game and get us thinking more about how receptivity to different kinds of media relates directly to where the user is, and in what mood or mode of media consumption.
We are already seeing some of this in the metrics emerging around things like e-commerce on tablets, where apparently people love to shop. Thumbing through a retail site or app on the iPad at night replicates a decades-old habit of reviewing the day’s mail order catalogs during prime time. For 15 years now many of us have had to steal time during the workday to browse amazon, Buy.com, etc. Now the device and the media match the user mode.
Personally, I have been arguing this same point for about 10 years now. The desktop is probably the least comfortable platform for serious media consumption we have yet invented. The film screen, the radio, the TV, the transistor and car radio are all instances where the mode of reception matches the situation. Much of the media we have stuffed onto the Web, from articles to photo galleries to video, e-commerce catalogs to weather reports, really yearn to get the hell off the desktop to places where we enjoy engaging them. Absorbing entertainment especially has never mapped well against an environment where we spend most of the day working or studying. Just look at its history to see the problem. The Web is an offshoot of a personal computer medium proliferated by the world’s largest business machine company: IBM.
Let’s stop talking about mobile as an “extension” of the Internet. In fact, device-based media platforms are the Web we have been waiting for all along.