Pew and Economist Group Panel Shows Mobile Ads Grab Users’ Attention

But consumers still don't want to pay for content

Headshot of Emma Bazilian

Earlier today, The Economist Group and the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism hosted a panel at Advertising Week titled Digital Disruption: The Future Of Media, moderated by Nick Blunden, global publisher of Economist digital. If the massive turnout for the event was any indication, the panel’s focus—“the future of mobile news”—is a topic that’s on the top of everyone’s minds.

Amy Mitchell, deputy director for Pew’s PEJ, kicked off by presented the findings of a just-released Pew/Economist Group study on mobile news. According to a survey of nearly 10,000 people, about a half of all adults have mobile Internet via a smartphone or tablet, and, after email, getting news is the second most popular activity on either device. Still, people are failing to take “full advantage” of their mobile devices, according to Mitchell. More than half of smartphone or tablet users consume mobile news just once a day on their device, and generally do so at home.

Although mobile users display strong loyalty to their preferred news outlets, generally returning to the same brands over and over, consumers display an ongoing resistance to actually paying for that content. “There’s a generation of people who have never paid for news contact, and whose first instinct is not to pay,” said Mitchell, who also stressed that news outlets “need to convince people that there is value in their content.” Mobile news users also remain more loyal to their print subscriptions than to digital ones: nearly a third of users subscribe solely to print news, versus just 9 percent who have paid for a digital-only news subscription.

As far as the big question—how can publishers make money from this growing mobile news landscape—there seems to be a bright side. Although people “have gotten very skilled at ignoring ads in the desktop world,” said Mitchell, about half of mobile users said that they’re likely to notice ads on a tablet or smartphone. Panelist Jane Barrett, international COO for mcgarrybowen, later agreed that while display advertising is “great for impressions,” it provides low value and low engagement, whereas tablets are “the perfect advertising medium,” combining the interactivity of digital and immersive of print. At the same time, she said, it’s crucial that advertisers take full advantage of the tablet medium, which is “more about content than an ad placement vehicle.”

So what makes a great mobile ad? When asked to give an example of a successful mobile campaign, Barrett pointed out an interactive Virgin Atlantic tablet ad unit that allowed users to go from exploring the airline to booking a ticket all without leaving the ad unit. “You should be able to do in an ad unit what you can do in a browser,” she said. “The technology is there.”

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.