Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the disparity between ad spend and consumer time spent, particularly on mobile devices. While 40% of consumer time and 43% of ad dollars spent on TV (according to Flurry), 23% of time is spent on mobile, but only 1% of ad dollars. So why the huge gap between mobile time spent and mobile ad spend?
Part of this has to do with the simple skyrocketing of mobile and the failure of the advertising industry to keep pace. But part of it may have to do with a potentially surprising element: consumer trust. A recent Nielsen report on the digital consumer features a wealth of data on U.S. consumers across various demographics. Topics covered include mobile usage, video viewing habits, and much more. One of the most striking components of the report addresses consumer trust in various advertising formats. Here’s a summary of consumer opinion on some top ad formats:
– 52% trust branded websites
– 46% trust TV ads
– 36% trust TV product placements
– 36% trust search ads
– 32% trust online video ads
– 32% trust social network ads
– 29% trust online banner ads
– 27% trust mobile display ads
– 26% trust text message ads
With TV leading the pack (after websites) in terms of consumer trust and mobile trailing by 20 percentage points, it seems to be the case that ad dollars aren’t just following where they eyes are, but where the trust is. In part, TV ad spend still dominates mobile ad spend because people are accustomed to TV ads, and–for whatever reason–report trusting them, even when it comes to blatant product placements.
Take last week’s episode of Community, the “cult hit” TV show about a dysfunctional group of community college students. The episode featured heavy Subway product placement, but the effect was more to criticize than to promote the brand. Main character Britta (pictured) initially attempts to protest the college’s decision to put a corporate Subway in the school cafeteria instead of a locally owned and operated (by Britta’s friend Shirley) sandwich shop. However, Britta ends up falling in love with Subway (literally–in the show, the brand has paid people to take on the name “Subway” and become, essentially, living advertisements). The image in this post shows Britta attempting to hide her Subway consumption from her would-be sandwich-shop-owning friend, Shirley.
Leaving aside the problematic personification of the Subway brand, the episode of Community served both to mock product placement and to confirm that it works. After all, why would Subway agree to place its products if it thought doing so would hurt the brand (and the people who embody it)? Even critical product placement can clearly have a benefit to brands. So are we all hiding a dirty secret: that we deeply trust TV, even when it’s blatantly tricking us with product placement (of a product that tricks customers with cold cut “ham” that’s actually turkey, no less)? By now, TV is pretty deeply ingrained in our collective psyche, and we have become so accustomed to TV ads that we don’t even realize that they exist to sell to us, not inform us.
Regardless of your stance on TV, trust seems like a primary culprit for mobile ad spend lagging. One crucial point, though: “trust” doesn’t necessarily correspond to action, meaning that more trusted ads are not necessarily more effective. Mobile search ads can be particularly effective, most notably because people on the go are probably more poised to make a purchase than people watching TV at home. To build mobile ad spend to match consumer time spent, I would encourage advertisers to work to build trust on mobile devices.