Tablet ads are falling short of the platform’s potential

Nick Ellsom, our Head of Digital, wrote this piece for New Media Age recently.

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2012 will see every man and his dog buying a tablet it seems, with sales set to sky rocket.  Deloitte is predicting 5m+ sales of tablets this year, which means the device is set to become mainstream in the next 12 months.  I am a huge fan of tablets having owned an iPad since my wife bought me one for Christmas in 2010 and I can’t praise them enough.  It’s absolutely revolutionised the way my family and I interact with the internet due to how quick and intuitive it is.  It’s ideal for the everyday internet usage that most of us do, whether it’s reading emails, trawling news sites or watching video, the tablet caters to everything from the casual 2 minute pickup to the fully engaged 3 hour session.  Sure if you want to do something a bit more involving with spreadsheets it doesn’t necessarily hit the spot, but for most of us this is going to be the main way we access the online world at home (at least until connected TVs really get traction anyway!).

Given how enthusiastic I am about tablets, you might be surprised to hear me say that I think the tablet, rather like social and mobile, is a pretty inferior advertising vehicle at present.  Yes there are large, engaged audiences to be had, but the ad formats currently on offer just don’t deliver for advertisers at the moment.   Tablets are different to the other devices on offer today and we haven’t yet found the right approach as an industry to targeting consumers on these devices.  Tablets are on the whole entertainment devices which is a role traditionally occupied by TVs, but they are far more personal and interactive than TVs so ad formats such as pre-roll on catch-up TV apps don’t feel like the right approach.  Anyone who has sat through the sheer quantity of pre roll ads on 4OD will appreciate how frustrating it is.  Tablets are also information devices but don’t encourage the type of depth of information that a PC does and also require a far more visually stimulating experience with a trimmed down user journey.  Quite where advertising should sit in this environment isn’t entirely clear, but what is clear is that it’s not about pre-rolls, MPUs and overlays.

As an industry we are not grasping the nettle on this and pushing for the type of formats that will suit the device.  We should be pushing for highly visual, contextually relevant, engaging, socially connected, entertainment led ad formats that stand a far greater chance of being accepted by tablet users. We should also be looking to meet consumers half way and provide them with the entertainment and information they are after through brand created content/ apps or sponsorships.  Tablets are easier to commercialise than mobiles as the rapidly growing trend for ecommerce on tablets demonstrates, but there are questions over its effectiveness as an advertising vehicle.

This is not to say that this can’t change in the future though.  I believe we will find effective advertising solutions in time, but we have a lot to learn and significant developments to make before sizeable budgets are put towards these type of devices.  History teaches us that every new device ultimately needs new ad formats that leverage the capabilities of the device and crucially they also need different approaches by marketers and their agencies that tap into the way consumers engage with that device.  It may well be that we all need to take a look at our approach before we can really make the most of the huge opportunities presenting themselves to us.

Originally published in New Media Age.

Author: Nick Ellsom (@ellsom)

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