Designers and marketers are just scratching the glossy surface of this mobile device’s potential
Call them couch toys. Call them heavy. Call them the focus of most
agencies’ emerging media energies these days. Any and all would be accurate. Tablets are poised to play a massive role in the future of media. They are likely to have the kind of reach that goes
beyond the device itself to change the face of Web design, impact e-commerce, and alter the way TV networks and marketers interact with viewers.
Exaggeration? Not likely. It’s hard to discount the promise of tablets.
“It’s tough to argue with the sales figures,” says James Kiernan, senior vice president and managing director of the digital magazine group at ZenithOptimedia. “Every single time Apple has a new device, there are more and more in hands and homes and that’s difficult to ignore.”
The numbers are already proving the reach of these tech-toys-turned-must-haves. Just two years after the first generation iPad rolled out and ignited a revolution, nearly three in 10 U.S. Internet consumers owned a tablet at the end of the second quarter of 2012, up from 20 percent at the end of the first quarter, says the Consumer Electronics Association.
The figure will keep growing. The CEA says that 45 percent of all online consumers plan to buy a tablet in the next two years. “Rarely has a new device category been so quickly embraced by consumers, businesses and education,” says Kevin Tillmann, senior research analyst at CEA, in a statement. Tablets aren’t just growing in the U.S. Worldwide shipments are increasing at 66 percent each year and demand will continue to rise in the foreseeable future, according to research firm IDC.
It’s not rocket science to understand why. Tablets are fun, a fact that popular activities reflect — consumers use tablets to watch movies and TV shows, to tweet and post photos on Facebook, to shop and to surf the Web. That’s why nearly every agency is devoting resources to studying consumer behavior and ushering marketers onto tablets. But don’t expect to only see ad campaigns on tablets.
The bulk of the brand work will be done in design.
Consumers have quickly grown accustomed to the interaction of tablets, such as touching a photo and expanding it to a larger size. They also seem fond of tapping buy buttons with a fingertip or flying that Z across the board to earn a triple letter score in Words with Friends.
What these swipes and flips and flyaways add up to is a new way to experience the Internet. Rather than sitting at a desk and clicking on a mouse or trackpad, consumers are touching the screen for the first time. The tactile experience adds a more personal element to any medium, and that’s one of the reasons tablets have such high satisfaction scores: 89 percent of tablet owners say they’re satisfied with the device, according to the CEA. That satisfaction has sparked a change in thinking about digital design. Bolstered by the foundation of HTML5 and its authoring capabilities, the quick adoption of tablets is ushering in an era of “responsive design.”
“The idea is we can get to the point where we design Web experiences for the device consumers are using at any moment. I don’t think anyone is there yet, but there is exciting stuff in development,” says Brandon Berger, chief digital officer for Ogilvy & Mather. “It’s the idea of designing platforms that can evolve, like an interface that can expand or shrink depending on the device.”
Brands, Web sites, and publishers alike are working to build their content so it can be viewed on PCs, tablets and mobile phones, says Brian Monahan, managing partner at Magna Global. “Web pages haven’t really changed since WordPress, but now there are different design elements like vertical scrolls and speeds of scrolling. You can also take the page and resize it and reformat it, and there’s the idea of the horizontal swipe,” he says. “We don’t even know what this revolution in digital design is going to mean yet for the ad experience, but I am hopeful that the responsive design revolution that has been shepherded by tablet penetration will allow us to revisit what the native ad format for the Web will be.”
Imagine an online ad world where horizontal, rectangular, and full-screen ads are no longer the norm. As multiscreen portability becomes de rigueur, it’s likely that ad formats online will be tossed out the window and reshaped.
Brand experiences will change, too. Tablets are couch toys, but they’re couch toys for a reason — rather than move over to the desktop or laptop, tablet owners choose to hop on Amazon or Etsy via their tablets. In that environment, should the buy button still live on the right hand side of the screen? Should there be less information on a product’s page? Or more videos? There are no clear-cut answers yet, but marketers — especially those with e-commerce businesses — are rethinking the online shopping experience
“The tablet really is perfect for the impulse buy, so brands need to design their stores and sites to understand what they’re consuming,” Berger says.
Less is going to be more, says Lisa Weinstein, president of global digital and search at Starcom MediaVest Group. She urges clients to simplify and clarify their e-commerce design for tablets. “One of the key insights we have learned is you have to design apps for commerce in one to two taps or you lose them,” she says. “Given the scale of tablets and how they have grown, they will completely be transforming commerce.”
Marketers have already had to adjust to phone habits. Consumers have increasing recourse to smartphones for shopping, price checking and searching for product information, This behavior has forced marketers to start optimizing sites for mobile phones. But many have not. The IAB reported in June that 45 percent of the Fortune 500 companies do not have mobile-optimized Web sites.
Starcom MediaVest Group has worked with Google on a so-called “ignition program” to understand the best practices for creating mobile-optimized experiences, Weinstein says. The agency started that program in late 2011 and will roll it out globally this year so clients can learn more about what works and doesn’t work for tablet and mobile optimization.
Optimization is mission critical. As more consumers access sites via mobile devices, they become less tolerant of poor mobile experiences, Weinstein says.
Beyond the Couch and into the Mix
Tablets are proving their usefulness in other areas. Walk into your local car dealer and the sales staff will likely show you extras on an iPad. RC Auto in Phoenix, for instance, has used iPads to share pictures of cars and options with customers, as well as to calculate payments and costs. Companies like Xerox and Salesforce use iPads for customer engagement and presentations. Locally owned restaurants and yogurt stores even use them for cash registers.
In addition to business-to-business uses, marketers are testing tablet campaigns and branded opportunities. In 2011, OMD worked with Flipboard to bring together several OMD clients in an experiment, including Pepsi, Gatorade, Infiniti, CW Television Network, Showtime, Levi’s, Dockers, Hilton Worldwide, GE, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and standup2cancer.org. Flipboard aggregated the user’s social graph to create a custom magazine for each user. That deal has evolved into a close relationship that OMD still has with Flipboard to develop brand magazines for the tablet.
Starcom MediaVest Group has worked with clients such as Coca-Cola and Kraft on multiscreen campaigns that include tablets.
Beyond brand-led experiences, there will also be more digital ads delivered on tablets as mobile campaigns grow, Kiernan says. “People are using tablets to replace their PCs. So we’ll be serving up more display, more rich media, more video. Tablets are another way to distribute digital ad experiences,” he says. A recent Yankee Group study revealed that tablets will claim about 53 percent of mobile ad dollars in 2014 and rise to 60 percent by 2016.
TV and Tablets Go Together
Area marketers are also eyeing the intersection between tablets and tvs. The two devices go hand-in-hand. Nearly half of the minutes spent on a tablet are simultaneous with tv viewing, according to research firm GfK Media.
But most marketers are missing the boat when it comes to mining this opportunity. Sure, there are plenty of second-screen apps and companion experiences from TV networks. Few, however, are taking advantage of the fact that, while watching TV, consumers have a big buy botton in their hands: that’s to say, the smartphone or tablet. While nearly nine of 10 consumers have made a mobile transaction in the last two months, neither TV advertising nor programming were among the most popular influencers, says research firm Interpret. Factors such as word-of-mouth, online content, and online advertising played bigger roles in driving purchasing decisions on mobile devices. When a mobile purchase was made after seeing a spot on TV, only 12 percent of mobile buyers made a purchase immediately after seeing the TV ad, but 95 percent did so within the same week, Interpret found. This suggests marketers are missing a golden opportunity if they don’t tap into the chance to better link TV ads to mobile habits.
The key to pairing the two may come in sponsorship of high-value TV apps, such as ABC’s Oscars app, suggests Dave Tice, senior vice president of GfK Media. “About three quarters [of tablet owners] feel that ads ‘take away from their enjoyment’ of their tablet, but a similar proportion agree ‘ads are a fair price to pay’ for free apps or content. There is an understanding of the implicit contract between ad-supported media and its audience. Relatively few people agree, though, that the ads they see are relevant, or fit in the context of the content. So the hoped-for ability of digital media to make ads more inviting through customization has not materialized for tablets, either. Tablets certainly are in the right place for trying to leverage a TV-to-tablet campaign; much tablet use is in front of the TV set.”
What’s interesting, Magna Global’s Monahan says, is that many consumers avoid TV ads simply by moving their heads to look at a device, such as a mobile phone or tablet during a TV show, he says. Marketers would be wise to figure out what consumers would rather look at, and then serve that up on a tablet.
Ogilyv’s Berger says that marketers should recall that (contrary to common parlance) the TV isn’t “the first screen.” The mobile device is usually the priority screen and it’s certainly the one that allows for interactivity and purchasing.