Digital Ad Spend Quickly Shifting To Mobile: Are You Ready?


Recent projections from eMarketer show that mobile ad spending will surpass desktop spending by 2017, reaching more than $35 billion compared to desktop based advertising at $27B.


The ultimate force behind the growth in ad spend is the massive increase in mobile web usage and smartphone activity by consumers. In order for the market to reach these lofty projections, it will be of paramount importance to work through key challenges such as fragmentation and cookie-based targeting.

The Opportunity

eMarketer reports that the global smartphone audience surpassed the 1 billion mark in 2012 and will total 1.75 billion in 2014. The opportunity for tapping into this vast, highly-engaged consumer base is so huge it’s impossible to ignore. Compared to traditional desktop, mobile engagement stats are through-the-roof and suggest that mobile users offer up a whole new slough of fresh data indicative of a marketing insights gold rush. Here’s why:

  1. By 2014, mobile internet usage should overtake desktop internet usage (source)
  2. Local mobile searches (85.9 billion) are projected to exceed desktop searches (84 billion) for the first time in 2015 (eMarketer)
  3. One half of all local searches are performed on mobile devices (source)
  4. On average, Americans spend 2.7 hours per-day socializing on their mobile device (source)

Industry players such as Facebook and Twitter (just to name a couple) are already making waves in mobile retargeting. These key digital entities spent the last year developing their own unique user-identification technology to track users moving between screens.

For example, Twitter announced late last year the introduction of its tailored audiences product, which empowers brands to retarget users who have shown interest in a particular product or advertiser via Twitter engagement.

Then last month, it expanded tailored audiences to allow it to tap into advertisers’ CRM data. Using advertisers’ consumer email lists, Twitter enables brands to target their loyal customers with relevant messaging such as clearance sales, loyalty rewards and the like.

Just last month, Facebook rolled out custom audience capabilities to all advertisers, including those running mobile campaigns. Brands can utilize this offering by placing a Facebook retargeting pixel on their brand site. The pixel can help brands build custom audiences based on actions people take while visiting a brand’s site or mobile app and then show ads based on these actions.

Facebook has identified that on mobile, many of their users are within a dedicated app zone in which they are more open to targeted messaging specifically related to what they’re currently viewing. This allows marketers to serve up highly customizable, and overall more relevant, engaging content.

The Challenge

Third-party cookies pose a major roadblock for achieving massive scale across mobile devices. Apple’s Safari browser has blocked third-party cookies by default from the start, while other mainstream offerings readily allow cookie collection and even build entire businesses around such practices.


Apps represent another prime communication channel within mobile, but they also feel the impact by the inability to track mobile app users the same way companies can track on a desktop (i.e., cookies). Without another identifier, it makes it hard to track audiences that go back and forth from mobile web browsers to apps.

Popular commentary today suggests the industry is moving toward a cookie-less existence, which would enable marketers to find alternative ways to reach consumers and target audiences as they move across devices and from web to apps. For now, the industry mostly relies on two forms of statistical modeling — fingerprinting and device recognition to help them identify audiences on mobile.

The second big hurdle to mobile retargeting is fragmentation across operating systems and browsers. For example, there are more Android users than iPhone users globally, but the U.S. population is not an accurate reflection of this global reality since iPhones actually own market share. Additionally, Android phones still tend to automatically opt-in for cookies.

There are a few smaller scaled mobile-specific browsers (Atomic is one) that users can opt to download independently to set more personalized browsing features; but, let’s be honest, who really takes time to do this? It’s unlikely that these smaller browsers can win enough market share to become a useful workaround for consumers or advertisers alike.

Reaching mobile users in real-time is another huge obstacle. Smartphones offer a wealth of data, but once marketers garner this vast information, how fast can they really respond to users? Web browsers can inform the user’s location and other behaviors, but users conducting similar activities on their mobile devices aren’t necessarily passing this information back fast enough for marketers to react in a relevant time frame.

Geo-fencing and hyper-local geo-zoning provide part of the solution, but only complete part of the puzzle. Technologies that begin to harness Bluetooth low-energy technology within the mobile devices will help solve this challenge.

The Next Phase Is Upon Us

In the case of mobile, consumers beat marketers to the punch, and as a result, full fledged advertising adoption has been catching up for years.

Once we iron out challenges with audience targeting, fragmentation across devices, and scalability issues, mobile will see a massive influx of dedicated digital dollars touting heavy investment in retargeting. Soon enough, it will no longer be considered “elusive” to think that mobile will surpass desktop advertising.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Lionel White is VP of Technology Operations at Magnetic, and is responsible for spearheading the company’s infrastructure, QA and technology operations.



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