IAB Reveals Record Spending -- But Why The Mobile Attention Disconnect?

There's only ever one subject being discussed in London when the IAB reveals its annual digital spend figures -- it's bigger even than an outdoor campaign giving away free beer in Shoreditch yesterday. 

There are all the usual big numbers there. Digital advertising was up 14% in 2014, hitting GBP7.2bn. Mobile is, as you might expect, now accounting for nearly a quarter of all digital advertising spend and more than half of all social spend.

It always puzzles me that two things are never truly highlighted when these quarterly figures, which are combined in to an annual report, are published.

First, search doesn't even get more than a single "by the way" mention. Yet, let me repeat, GBP3.77 of a GBP7.2bn total pot is spent on search. Yes, that's right -- search has once again account for more than half of all the budget that goes into digital advertising, yet mobile, which is less than half the value of search, will be picked out in every headline as the big story. To be fair, its 63% rise from the year before is pretty big news -- and appears to have been fuelled particularly by social media where, of course, most people consume their social media.

This brings us to the second point that is never highlighted at the time, but may be reflected upon later. Spend does not seem to tally with attention. Put it this way: the big winner, in terms of percentage gains, is display. It has grown 26% year-on-year -- which shows that markets have truly embraced the medium as a branding channel, given the fact one in a thousand will actually interact with an ad, that seems the only logical conclusion.

So, that's all fine, search dominates and is very much at the research and intent part of the purchase funnel with digital display playing the main role in brand awareness. My question, though, comes through a simple observation. More than half of all web pages are viewed on mobile devices, yet just under a quarter of display ad spend is mobile. So the device that has the most attention, gets just under a quarter of the overall GBP2.27bn digital display budget.

There is probably an obvious answer here. Display doesn't work very well on mobile. A common complaint is that the buttons and banners are too small, and although I agree, display isn't really there to do anything other than be legible -- a situation that should improve with clearer, larger screens. Display isn't really about interaction, it's about branding. So perhaps, given the screen size issue, we should be looking elsewhere for the complete answer?

And it might just be that content and native were big climbers in 2014, rising 22% to hit GBP509m, while video advertising leaped 43% to hit GBP442m. 

I've said it before, and will continue to do so -- social, native and video are the routes to engaging the hearts and minds of mobile consumers. Entertain them, prevent them from having to make eye contact at the bus stop or look like they're nervously scanning the door to see if a pal or date is arriving sometime soon, and you've got them. The trouble is that if you add up the native and video advertising you will hit a billion pounds roughly -- but of course, it's not clear how much is aimed toward mobile users and how much is desk top.

So I'm always left asking the two same things. One is just a matter-of-fact observation that search never gets much of a mention, although it continues to dominate digital marketing. The second is the disconnect between attention and budget. There are clearly more display options available on desktop, but then shouldn't that be prompting a much heavier investment in mobile native and video?

I come away from the figures every year believing that brands are grasping the awareness opportunities that digital brings, but not the engagement. When roughly GBP6bn of the spend of just over GBP7bn on digital advertising goes to influence people who are already looking for something or raising brand awareness, that only leaves a billion for engagement. 

So my two questions could perhaps better be phrased as why the disconnect between attention and spend? And where is the engagement?

1 comment about "IAB Reveals Record Spending -- But Why The Mobile Attention Disconnect?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 9, 2015 at 10:18 a.m.

    The same question can be raised about other media. In the U.S. an average adult devotes about 25% of his/her media time to radio and less than 3% to magazines, yet radio garners only 6% of national ad spending for the five major media while magazines get something like 15-16%. There are many reasons for this. For radio, most of the media options are local and many national advertisers relegate local media to their distribution "partners"or, if they have their own local market spending strategies, they prefer TV.Which brings up the second point---the assumption that radio is not as "effective" for branding purposes as TV. This applies for magazines as well---note: I'm not saying that it's correct. On the other hand, many publications are bolstered in ad sales by virtue of their subject matter and are must buys for "endemic" advertisers, hence their ad page tallies are less affected that one might expect. Time spent or other attentiveness indicators, while useful within media, are simply not what motivates most cross-media usage decisions. Ad impact assumptions, ad exposure or "viewability" factors, past performance, merchandisablilty, audience targeting capabilities, CPM pricing, reach potentials, ingrained advertiser/agency biases and the purpose of the spending---branding or promotional----all play a role.

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