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The tablet can help publishers get back what they lost with the internet

Interview with IAB's Anna Bager

Founded in 1996, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is tasked with driving the growth of online advertising. In 2010, the IAB recognized that mobile devices were set to play a huge role in digital advertising, and they launched the Mobile Marketing Center for Excellence. The Center conducts research, writes case studies and performs executive trainings, all on the role of mobile devices in advertising. I recently spoke with Anna Bager, vice president and general manager of the Mobile Marketing Center, about what impact the Center thinks tablets are having on advertising and publishing. 

Why the need for a mobile marketing center within IAB?

The  IAB has been on the interactive marketing side of things since the start, and we’ve had a mobile committee since around 2007 or 2008. But we felt there was a need for us to take a better look at mobile, understanding that mobile is not a stand alone trend. It’s complementary and interwoven within digital media.

For us, the term “mobile” is about both mobile phones and users being mobile. So it’s about content being mobile instead of just the device being mobile. It’s how you access content on different screens. You access content on your TV, and then pick it up on your computer, then your tablet, then your mobile phone. It’s a cross-platform experience.

So we focus on trying to make ads more effective on mobile phones and tablets, and making advertising more seamless and effective across multiple devices. If someone is watching a show on a TV and then a computer, how can we track that single user when he is moving between screens?

We’re also starting to really focus on using mobile devices while watching TV. People will search on the web, look up product information or information about the TV show – all while watching a program on TV. We’re using our tablets in conjunction with other forms of media, and content is really moving between platforms.

We’ve also been looking at this social TV phenomenon on the blog

It’s a huge opportunity, but also a huge problem. We’re getting better at multitasking – and I think our children will be really good at it – but maybe we’re less engaged or pay less attention when we have more than one screen in front of us. We really need to learn more about how this works.

How do you differentiate between mobile phones and tablets?

They are both untethered and easy to carry around. Other than that, we don’t see them as very similar. We don’t see tablets as a PC and we don’t see them as a mobile phone; they are a device on their own.

I’ve seen that tablets often lead to a lean back experience. We use our tablet on a sofa to read magazines and books. For others, though, it’s a highly mobile device. For example, I bring my tablet everywhere. I barely even use my PC anymore. So I don’t want to say that tablets are necessarily lean back or lean forward, but they are definitely different than mobile phones.

I also think that the borders between tablets and mobile phones are blurring. There are smartphones that you have to hold with two hands, and tablets are getting smaller. I think it’s going to be harder and harder to say what a tablet is and what a mobile is.

Can you give me any examples of an effective or a creative tablet ad?

We actually have a tablet creative showcase at http://www.iab.net/tabletshowcase, where we have a lot examples of several really great tablet ads.

My personal favorite, though, is a Qwest ad that ran in Wired magazine. The ad is really a puzzle. When you shook the iPad, the letters fell down and you had to pick them back up again, place them in the right order and form a word. That’s how you would solve the puzzle. Once you won, you were forwarded along to learn about Qwest’s problem-solving capabilities. It’s a fun ad and really takes advantage of the full tablet functionality. You can spin it, you can shake, you can see video and you can do something beautiful with the screen. 

How can publishers make better use of the tablet?

The tablet is really the device that, if publishers can handle it right, could very well be their chance to get back what they lost when the internet came – both financially and in their relationship with users.

I think publishers should really embrace this opportunity, and I think they should think about the tablet as a thing of its own. It’s not print; it’s not a PC; it’s not a mobile. I also think publishers should experiment with new creative ad formats and new ways of interacting with their readers.

I also don’t think publishers should be bound by apps. The mobile web is going to grow exponentially in the coming months and years. More users are using their tablets for browsing, so it’s important that publishers create an app-like experience on the web. Work with responsive design and other new technologies to make that experience great for users.

Lastly, I’d also say that publishers should be looking closely at the cross-media usage. You very well may be sitting reading The Economist on your couch, while watching something else. That’s a trend publishers should really be taking advantage of and looking into more.