Mobile Display's Parity With Search Shows Price Is Temporarily Trumping Quality

Mobile is a billion-pound channel for the first time in a six-month period, up a staggering 52% according to AA/Warc figures. What perhaps is more interesting is that search and display are nearly equal at £557m and £512mn -- meaning that search is up about a third, while display is up about two-thirds on the previous figures. Together, the two channels pretty much make up nearly all of the just over a billion pounds that mobile was worth in the first half.

I say this is interesting because it bucks a trend, and AA/Warc points out that display is on course to overtake search on mobile spending by the end of the year, which is unusual. In desktop, IAB UK figures regularly have search at the top of the pile -- with around a half share of all Internet advertising, with display accounting for just under a third. Search, then, is the clear leader and is nearly double the size of display. This is not surprising, considering that search is driven by the marketer's dream of user intent compared to raising brand awareness.

So why should display be disproportionately high on mobile compared to desktop? When you think about it, it's illogical. The smaller screen is not as well suited to passing on an advertiser's branding and messaging as a laptop or desktop computer, and yet still it is up there, neck and neck with search. It was only a couple of years ago that I remember several search gurus tipping off brands that there were bargains to be had in mobile search, particularly in long-form searches that were less frequently tapped in by users on a small keyboard than shorter queries. Those early days are long gone -- now that Google has announced that the majority of searches start from mobile devices, but the fact remains that mobile search hasn't heated up to the extend desktop has.

I suspect the answer, then, is the low price of inventory available to advertisers resulting from browsing shifting toward mobile devices and heavy use of apps that are supported by advertising. The huge amount of ad space being made available is only sending inventory prices in one direction, and the allure of mobile is ever bright for marketers wanting to shift budget to where attention is drifting. 

However, Marketing Week is right to ask today whether the latest figures should not come as a warning to brands that they should at least consider whether their budget is going on a low-cost yet equally low quality inventory. 

Undoubtedly, more budget will flow into mobile social, video and native as marketers decide to focus on getting messages across within the mobile user's news flow or timeline. It's surely a trend that shows that the near parity between search and display has to be the result of marketers rushing in to take part in the new channel through the oceans of new inventory being made available at rock bottom prices.

The question remains -- are marketers better off following this path or concentrating on quality display and supplementing it with content-based marketing that sits in the middle of the screen, rather than flashing in a small button at the bottom of a news or gaming app? For me, there's no contest.

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