What the Boom in Mobile Transactions Means For Ads

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On its earnings call last month, eBay said its mobile transactions will double this year, to $10 billion – a big number that includes mobile commerce spending for both eBay and PayPal during 2012. "The share of mobile transactions as a percent of our total is growing dramatically," CFO Robert Swan told analysts.

Given this and other data nuggets hinting at an acceleration of mobile commerce tied to global smartphone and tablet adoption, it's reasonable to wonder if we might see a spike in direct response dollars flowing to mobile media. After all, the rise of online display advertising was driven by online commerce platforms – including eBay. It would only make sense to see transactional companies climb up the list of mobile ad spenders. Right?

Actually, not so much.

In its Q2 assessment of the top spenders on mobile media, comScore found the very biggest mobile advertisers are large advertisers who are most likely to be using the mobile channel for traditional branding goals. Here are the top 10, of which at least eight are large advertisers not invested in mobile transactions:

Advertiser
    IAC - InterActiveCorp
    General Motors Corporation
    AT&T Inc.
    Hobby Lobby Creative Centers
    Groupon
    Burger King Holdings, Inc.
    Verizon Communications Inc.
    Comcast Corporation
    Toyota Motor Corporation
    The Home Depot, Inc.

Speaking with AdExchanger, comScore VP of marketing & industry analysis Andrew Lipsman had this to say:

"When mobile advertising first became a thing, there were a lot more apps and ringtones being offered. It took a long time in online for everyone to understand we shouldn't just be looking at online in terms of direct response. We should be looking at it as a brand channel. My sense is that as the mobile platform has developed, that same shift has happened, but it's happened much more quickly."

And it's not just the top 10, ComScore found the top 100 mobile advertisers are predominantly large brand advertisers -- not online or mobile retailers.

None of this proves transactional brands won't eventually become major mobile advertisers. On the contrary, a great many of them already are small-time players. Mobile ad networks like Apsalar, Tapjoy, and Flurry have long catered to developers seeking to drive installs either of paid apps or free ones that ask users to transact later. Such developers will continue to be a key source of ad demand in the mobile ad space.

Here are a few other considerations that factor into the interplay of mobile commerce  and mobile advertising:

The Amazon Question. Amazon is probably the #2 player in mobile transactions with more than $1 billion in m-commerce sales last quarter. But it's very guarded about its ad strategy. During its last earnings call, CFO Thomas Szkutak said, "The mobile part of our business is growing very, very fast. And it's a very exciting opportunity. And this is not something that's new; it's something that we've been working on for a number of years in a number of geographies." Close to the vest? Very.

Tablets Center Stage in Q4. Tablets represent a growing commerce opportunity for online retailers, but how best to capture that opportunity  is still open for debate. Whether mobile display will play a big role this year is now in the hands of retail industry CMOs and media agency execs who are planning for the all-important Q4.

There's much to recommend a tablet-heavy media strategy. Consider that during holiday season 2011, Adobe found average order volume for tablet users was consistently higher than that for either smartphone or traditional web. Tablets also delivered higher conversion rates than smartphones, though on this metric traditional web visitors beat both smartphone and tablet users.

There's also evidence that over time, tablet visitors are getting more comfortable using their devices to transact. Those individuals converted at higher rates during the holiday season than they did during full-year 2011.

Shopping Apps See Action. Ebay and Amazon are the dominant providers of mobile shopping apps, and those apps are growing by leaps and bounds.  As ClickZ noted, "eBay Mobile - which allows shoppers to take photos of items to list for sale and notifies them of auctions and watched item status - attracted 13.2 million users in June. That's an increase of 31 percent since January 2012, according to Nielsen data provided to ClickZ."

There may be an opportunity for mobile ad sellers to drive such mobile transactions on eBay, Amazon and other properties in a demonstrable way. However there remains a hurdle in reaching regular mobile shoppers outside their apps of preference, especially when eBay and Amazon have email retargeting at their disposal. That old tried and true channel is still easier, cheaper, and more powerful than mobile display ads – at least in their current form.

(It bears noting that the methodology comScore uses for its Mobile Metrix measurement is different from online. The metric for online is "ad impressions." For mobile, it's "ad instances," which calculates approximate ad frequency based on four daily "scrapes" of the comScore collection tool over a one-month period.)

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