Commentary

Are We Ready For The Next Screen In Interactive Advertising?

"I always hear about the cellphone as being the third screen, but I think about it as the first one. It's with me all the time."

Speaking at last month's Online Publishers Association (OPA) Forum for the Future in London, R/GA Chairman Bob Greenberg noted why the mobile Web piques the imagination of marketers everywhere: no matter where we are, our mobile handset is sure to be nearby. While it is no substitute for the Web experience on our personal computer, it can extend that experience in powerful ways.

According to new OPA research, the mobile Web has begun to move beyond the domain of ringtone downloads and messaging to a platform where marketers can connect with consumers in measurable and effective ways. The study found that this transformation is being fueled by consumers' receptivity to mobile marketing. In fact, more than one-third of mobile Web users internationally say they will watch advertisements in exchange for free mobile content.

Importantly, the ads they watch are driving significant numbers of consumers to take specific actions, both online and offline. Nearly one in 10 consumers actually made a purchase based on a mobile Web ad. About one-quarter were driven to check out a Web site, while 13% requested more information about a product or service.

The OPA's "Going Mobile" study, which was conducted with TNS Media and Entertainment, involved over 6,000 interviews in the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, Spain and Germany. It provides a strong indication that the mobile Web is becoming an effective ad platform and a valuable source of revenue.

In addition to the promise of advertising revenue, the research also revealed that consumers are interested and willing to pay for content on their mobile devices. The OPA's 2005 "Paid OnlineContent U.S. Market Spending Report," revealed that over $2 billion is being spent on content, and "Going Mobile" shows that this extends to the mobile Web. More than one in 10 mobile Internet users have paid for content across categories. Nearly one-quarter of Americans have paid for tech news, followed closely by lifestyles content and product information.

The transition of the mobile Web to an effective marketing platform is also being driven by strong growth in mobile content consumption. More than three-quarters of all consumers in the U.S. and Western Europe have access to the Web on their mobile device, and one third say they have used it at least once.

In the year ahead, many of those with access say they plan to spend more time with the mobile Web. In fact, the U.S., which has typically been a laggard in mobile adoption versus European countries, leads the pack in prospective growth. One-quarter of Americans who use the mobile Web say they will spend more time with it in the upcoming year.

"Going Mobile" found that PC Internet brands are the leading source for mobile Web users internationally. Across all content categories, more than 50 percent of mobile Web consumers rely on the same brands they use when surfing on their PC, demonstrating that content brands being used on the PC Internet are transferring their equity to the mobile Web.

It also demonstrates consumers' interest in "anytime, anywhere" access to the content they rely on with their home or work computer. When away from the office, the political junkie is using a mobile handset to get breaking news from washingtonpost.com, the money manager is reading latest updates from Marketwatch, and the tech wiz is looking at new gadgets on CNET.com.

The reality right now, of course, is that the screen we carry in our purse or coat pocket isn't about to replace the one that sits on our desk or lap. While about one-third of mobile Web users are satisfied with the experience, the OPA found that many consumers still want improvements in download times, navigation and overall user-friendliness.

But the ubiquity of mobile devices, the growth in mobile Web usage, and the willingness of consumers to watch mobile ads in exchange for content (and even pay for it) are demanding the attention of publishers and marketers. The mobile handset may not be ready to assume the role of a "first screen," but it's clear that it can no longer be considered a distant third.

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