Where Should You Focus Your ad Spend, Mobile or Desktop?

MediaGo Staff | 09/14/2020

With so many advertisers laser-focused on mobile inventory these days, we thought it would be prudent to review some of the pros and cons of both mobile ads and desktop ads. 

Smartphones and tablets are obviously playing a bigger role in people’s lives. In fact, Pew Research notes that 81% of U.S. consumers now own a smartphone, and around 50% own tablets. But that doesn’t mean that desktops have gone the way of the dodo. In the same report, Pew Research states that roughly 75% of people in the U.S. have a desktop or laptop computer. What’s more, during the COVID-19 pandemic, countless working professionals of all ages are stuck at home. It’s easier than ever to browse the web on your work laptop without colleagues peering over your shoulder — not that we advise doing so.

When it comes to ad campaigns, there are substantive differences between desktop and mobile. Some of those differences are behavioral on the part of the user and are reflected in the different roles that PCs and smartphones play in our lives. Also, the audience makeup on PCs is different from that on smartphones. Finally, PCs and smartphones differ in their technological limitations.

Let’s break down the three key differences, and what they mean for your ad campaigns.

  1. Behavioral Differences

Love it or hate it, the multitasking lifestyle is here to stay. And the smartphone, in all its picture-taking, gaming, social media-posting glory — is the veritable king of multitasking. One thing is clear: we love getting distracted on our smartphones. The average smartphone user has 60-90 apps installed, and regularly opens 10 of those apps.

Although it’s true that we multitask on our home computers, we generally don’t consider the PC as a social networking device like our smartphone. Instead, we use our PCs to click through headlines on news congregation platforms, like MSN or Google News. Over the decades, the PC has cemented its place in our minds as a workstation first and foremost — with the exception of off-hour gaming sessions. 

Consumers are simply less distracted on their PCs compared to smartphones. What does this mean for advertisers? Simply put: creatives on a PC can afford to be a bit more information-dense, with more text and more detailed images. On the flip side, smartphone creatives often benefit from being more attention-grabbing and easier to understand at-a-glance.

2. Audience Makeup

The advertising ecosystem differs significantly on PC and mobile. Generally speaking, PC ads are either on search engine results pages (SERP) in the form of PPC text ads, or on content websites in the form of native, display or video. This is quite different from the in-app ads on smartphones. 

Many PC users have their browser homepage set to a news portal like MSN.com. These users also tend to be a bit older, with more discretionary income. Sites like MSN.com are where they begin their user journey every single day, which explains why this ad space is so coveted. 

MSN in particular is well-regarded as a trusted product from Microsoft. Advertisers know that MSN ads perform well, and are always looking for ways to scale their campaigns on MSN and other first-party publisher sites. MediaGo lets advertisers buy directly on MSN.com and its sister pages instead of having to purchase MSN inventory as part of a package.

3. Technological Differences

It’s obvious that PCs and smartphones are physically different, but how do those differences impact your ad strategy? Firstly, PCs have more screen real estate than smartphones. This means that you can do more with your ad creatives — especially if you can stomach the budget for a half-screen or full-screen ad. Even “smaller” ads on PCs have more real estate to work with when compared to their smartphone counterparts, which means advertisers can jam more content — images, text, video — into their creatives. However, more screen real estate presents a double-edged sword. Advertisers may find themselves competing for attention in a crowded environment.

Another technological difference arises from the inherent portability of smartphones. People carry their phones with them wherever they go, all day every day. Location data can offer advertisers valuable insight into consumer behavior that desktop-bound PCs have no way to access. 

Don’t Forget About Desktop

For most types of businesses, a carefully selected blend of desktop and mobile advertising is a smart bet. Marketing professionals often recommend an omnichannel approach, which includes not only a wide variety of advertising channels and mediums, but also a social media presence. Whatever approach you take to your next ad campaign, don’t discount desktop — it’s still a force to be reckoned with.