Google explains to Uncle Advertising how we all use our devices

We'll pick up any handy device to get a job done. You knew this, but advertisers? Still getting there.

It’s in Google’s interest to know how we’re using the web, because they power the advertising that’s all over the web and, increasingly, on mobile devices. In turn, Google has to sell that to the brands buying its ad space. So in the second quarter of this year, Google, working with brand strategy firm Sterling Brands and survey-rewards company Ipsos, looked at how 1,611 people around Los Angeles, Boston, and Austin, Tex., used all their devices. The results will make you feel like all of us need help.

Or, perhaps, that we’ve got all the help we need, on every size of screen, and we’re using all of them, all of the time, to accomplish things and entertain ourselves. That’s the takeaway from The New Multi-screen World, Google’s internet behavior research paper. Whatever device we have handy is what we’ll use to get something done, unless it’s onerous and unwieldy.

90 percent of those surveyed use different devices “sequentially”: looking up flight prices and times on a phone, perhaps, then actually booking (and emailing the boss) from a laptop. Or seeing what movies are available for watching on iTunes or Netflix, then watching them on a television with an Apple TV or streaming option. Even when it’s TV time, 77 percent of television watchers have another screen within reach, and use it to chat, game, or look up things they’re seeing. Google is keen to point out, too, that search is the major way we move between devices, using the same search terms to bring up the same results.

Most encouraging is the figure claiming that smartphones are where we make our spur-of-the-moment purchases, with 81 percent of purchases on phones considered impulse-like buys, versus 58 percent on a laptop. Advertising brands like to be where people are spending money, and Google playing the role of the hip college kid talking to his Uncle Advertising at Thanksgiving, explaining where the kids with disposable income are hanging out these days, so that said Uncle may sell them things.

But mobile advertising is a tricky if fast-growing field, with lots of unproven boasts and warnings on both sides. Kind of like fracking! (I am so sorry). Mobile advertising isn’t just ads drawn for a smaller screen. The whole pitch to advertisers has to be different, and it just isn’t there yet, writes one media buying executive:

Mobile ad formats lack standardization: We see many versions of creative formats in mobile advertising today and no standard yet exists for building and delivering these units at scale across the various devices, screen sizes and capabilities. This presents a real issue for the creative shop trying to create consistent messaging and deploy ads quickly

And there are other mobile ad problems not yet fixed, like the ability to pay for things online without having to open your wallet and enter a more than 20 digits into a tiny keyboard. This is part of what Google is saying in its report: people switch between devices whenever it makes sense, and whatever they believe to be possible from that screen. Make better mobile sites, and make mobile purchases more than just an awkward side entrance, and we’ll all end up validating your brands with maximum interactive engagement, or whatever it is you want, Uncle Advertising.

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