The drastic upturn in mobile usage has left publishers scrambling to find advertising revenue. Contrary to earlier expectations, Americans have warmed to mobile, leaving laptops in the dust. Between 2013 and 2015, total time spent on the mobile-adjusted versions of newspapers and magazines jumped from 25 billion minutes to 49 billion minutes.
This rapid change poses a serious challenge to publishers who depend on digital advertising revenue to compensate for deteriorating print ad revenue. Regrettably, smartphones and tablets do not take easily to advertisements. On the small screen, it’s difficult to fit in the same number of ads that appear on publishers’ pages when displayed on a desktop or laptop. Furthermore, banner ads that run across larger screens are irrelevant to mobile screens.
Tracking and targeting ads is another confounding issue. Unlike desktops, mobile devices are not primed for recording earlier searches made by consumers. When a consumer views a product on a desktop, tracking software takes note, and targeted ads displaying similar products are generated. That process flounders on mobile, where user data is slippery and hard to track.
As a result, advertisers are reluctant to pay for mobile ad space. Understandably, they do not want their ads shot haphazardly into cyberspace. Without the tracking and targeting inherent to digital advertising, ads on mobile devices are unlikely to reach a relevant audience.
Recognizing that their oxygen supply is rapidly becoming choked off, publishers are scrambling to find alternate solutions. Targeting any demographic on mobile devices is practically impossible with the current mobile parameters, so publishers are trying to sidestep the need to demarcate their users’ gender, age, and interests. Instead, they are implementing novel tactics wherein demographics are irrelevant.
The New York Times has announced its intention to test a new advertising format that divides the day into seven time periods. Businesses will target ads to readers who they believe are likely to read the newspaper at various times of the day.
Using a different approach to circumvent the tracking problem, Daily Mail, a news and gossip site, plans to allow mobile advertisers to embed video ads within the site’s content. Similarly, native advertising, already popular in mobile format, is set for growth. Native advertising is a type of paid media where the ad mirrors the form of the surrounding content on the page. It offers useful and interesting content that flows seamlessly with the other elements on the page instead of interrupting with messages that have nothing to do with the content. Native advertising endears customers to a brand instead of distracting and annoying them.
To advance their cause, publishers will have to overcome the technical obstacles to selling ad space on mobile. Once marketers appreciate the tremendous opportunities this skyrocketing audience offers, they will once again channel their advertising dollars to media publishers.