Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

What if Mobile Ads Don’t Catch Up?

The mobile Web is booming. But the mobile ad market is pretty small.

Short-term, that means ads that run on phones are much cheaper than ads that run on PCs — often by as much as 80 percent.

That’s a well-documented challenge for the likes of Facebook and Zynga and even Google; the problem is just as real, if less-publicized, for other Web publishers.

If you are an Internet optimist, you have a ready answer for this problem: Advertisers will eventually catch up to their audience. If people are spending lots of time on their phones, marketers will follow the eyeballs.

That’s the gist of the argument Kleiner Perkins’ Mary Meeker made at our D10 conference earlier this year, when she unveiled her annual Internet Trends report.

Meeker updated her slides for a new presentation last night, but the key ad chart remains unchanged — she figures that between the desktop and mobile Web, there’s at least $20 billion in ad spending ready to move away from old media:

That’s a popular argument in the Internet world, for obvious reasons. But here’s the counter-argument, via a note Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger published last month. The title spells it out quite clearly: “The Share of Time Versus Share of Ad Spend Fallacy.”

Juenger’s argument boils down to this: Yes, lots of people are spending lots of time on the Web, and now on their phones. But that doesn’t increase marketers’ desire to spend more money there — it just creates more advertising inventory, which might actually end up decreasing the total amount spent on those ads.

The money paragraph, such as it is:

We could actually make the argument that, because usage of Internet (especially mobile) continues to quickly grow, Internet ad spending (on an absolute level) should actually fall. If marketers are mainly are concerned with delivering a certain number of impressions, rather than a certain amount of spend, then everything else being equal, it would cost less to deliver the same number impressions next year than it did this year. Because in that scenario, supply is growing but demand is not. Or, perhaps marketers would look at the falling CPM’s and determine their preferred course might be to spend the same amount on Internet as last year, which would deliver X% more impressions. Getting, in that case, a lot more impressions for the same amount of dollars. The only way Internet ad spend grows is if marketers determine they want a lot more Internet impressions, causing them to spend more absolute dollars, at a lower/higher CPM (depending on which grows faster, demand or supply).

The easiest way to shrug off Juenger’s argument is to say that mobile Web ads are so nascent right now that no one has any idea what the market will look like, except that it has to get bigger, period. That’s probably right.

But we’ve seen plenty of evidence of Juenger’s argument in the desktop Web world. People keep spending more time there, but publishers have to keep slashing their rates to attract ad dollars. If the same scenario plays out on mobile, that gap might remain there for a long time.

(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Dominik Michalek)


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