The Line Being Drawn Between Smartphones And Tablets

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Human beings are an intriguing group.

What does advertising do? Well, if you believe the very first episode of the very first season of the acclaimed television show, Mad Men, the answer is simple: happiness. Advertising sells the notion of happiness. Use this, buy that and be happy. That’s the purpose. That’s it. Love it or hate it. Maybe things were simpler back in those days. Maybe they’ve changed so dramatically over the past two decades, because of how much technology and new media channels have disrupted the broadcasting model. It would be (somewhat) easy to defend either side in a public debate. Still, it’s hard to argue that making an ad connect, create value and, ultimately, create a point of conversion is getting increasingly more complex.

How many screens are there and how complex is the new marketing mix?

In my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete (which came out in a trade paperback version earlier this month), I make the argument that we no longer live in the three screen world (TV, computer and mobile devices), but rather a one screen world. The spin, in simplistic terms, is that the consumer chooses. The only screen that matters to them is the screen that is in front of them. Screens are everywhere, they are cheap (or getting cheaper), they are connected and they are able to be interacted with. This, coupled with the context of how and where the consumer is, creates a different dynamic for marketers and advertisers. On one hand, the brand messaging has be consistent as they multi-platform and multi-action seamlessly through these cycles of screens. On the other hand, each type of consumer engagement is being done with a different mindset (not just consumption), and must be treated differently. In fact, it’s harder and harder to define what, exactly, “mobile” means.

Are consumers in a fixed location or on the go?

Even that kind of simplistic approach can be problematic. How many times have you found yourself lying in bed at home for hours on end flicking around on an iPad? So, you’re on a mobile device, but you’re in a fixed location that would be no different from the good old days of being lumped in front of the TV on your couch in the living room. So, if the confusion is real… and it is, do marketers need to be super-slicing their ad budgets to be reflective of this complexity, or are they better off creating two lines of budgets that can be delineated between when a consumer is passive with media or active with their media (another core thought that I delve much deeper into in CTRL ALT Delete).

The one screen world requires a one screen ad budget approach. 

That was my initial prognosis. That prognosis could be wrong, if you ask brand marketing executives. This morning, AdWeek published an article titled, Redefining Mobile: Smartphones, Tablets Increasingly Have Separate Ad Budgets. If you’re like me, it’s the kind of headline that you have to stop and read twice. It’s also the kind of headline that could leave you scratching your head in wonder. Here’s the common thought that the average consumer might say when asked about the difference between their smartphone and their tablets: one is just a bigger version of the other. I enjoy consumption more on the bigger screen (or even working on it). Truth? Not so sure. The smartphone giants are creating smartphones with bigger and better screens. This is forcing a new kind of behaviour, where people no longer want to lug around their tablets. That’s right, tablets could quickly become as “fixed” as those desktop PCs that you have collecting dust in that strange room you have labelled as your “home office,” even though the entire house is wi-fi enabled… and you can work from your sundeck as easily as you can from the bathroom.

According to the AdWeek article: 

“Most people agree regular tablet use has declined among on-the-go consumers compared to one or two years ago. Research shows that people increasingly use their tablets at home. And worldwide tablet shipments fell 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, the first decline since the devices hit the market in 2010. When people do take them out in public, it’s often to entertain a child during car rides or to watch shows on Hulu or Netflix during a trip. They’re typically not shopping in Target or Walmart with an iPad in hand or watching video on their Microsoft Surface in between meetings–they’re doing that on their phones instead.”

So, just how different is the tablet from the smartphone when it comes to marketing?

A fascinating consumer behavior that not enough brands are paying attention to… but they should. If this is true, perhaps we are in transition. A place where most mobile ads are really about creating an impression, but as the screens grow and the usage adapts to it (which does include the actually usability and functionality) we will see a dramatic change in what advertising can do when you hop from the smallest of screens to the bigger ones. When you need to use only one hand to manipulate the screen instead of two. Regardless, this idea that tablets are not just bigger versions of smartphones, and that smartphones are getting bigger with more robust capabilities must be studied, tested and optimized for brands.

If we don’t, we’re going to continue to debate the baseline value of simply advertising on these devices, and that would be a tragic mistake.