Wi-fi upsets the online advertising status quo

You might think that getting rid of the cables connecting your PC to the internet wouldn’t make much difference to marketers. But in fact, wireless broadband radically changes how consumers interact with a brand.

Last week Yahoo! and Isobar unveiled the findings of a piece of collaborative research, Fluid Lives, which sought to identify insights into the use and efficacy of digital technology. The results were fascinating. My interest lay particularly in the behaviour of people in the home, when exposed to a sharp upgrade in the technology at their disposal.

As part of the study, households were provided with broadband wi-fi and a laptop for each of the occupants. Freed from the anchor of a desktop computer, online use changed – users roamed around the home with the device, leaving it switched on and left open as one would a magazine. They began to use their laptops more often, greatly increasing the time they spent online. It encouraged “grazing” rather than gorging due to its “always on, always there” availability. As a result, online consumption completely changed and they began describing their laptop as a companion, saying that wi-fi opened up the world to them.

So what does this mean to advertisers? Essentially, wi-fi laptops change online behaviour in the home. People more readily search for content or advertisers they had seen in other media, than they would if they had to remember a web address and search from their desktop later.

Media “meshing” increased substantially, with 51% saying they watched television and spent time online simultaneously, compared with 36% of people with normal broadband. The immediacy of offline advertising to online connectivity made them more likely to react to ads.

This will have a profound impact on the creative and planning communities. Proximity of messages across platforms requires consistency of message. Where offline and online creative are split between agencies, it makes the briefing process incredibly important, and the execution vital.

The portability of wi-fi also allows instant sharing with others. In my view, this type of immediate advocacy of a message or product is incredibly valuable if handled correctly, but dangerous if poorly managed.

Once again, it is an example of enabled consumers posing both opportunities and threats to our business, but I believe the opportunities are incredibly compelling, if the potential is recognised and exploited to the full.

Mark Chippendale is vice-president of sales, Europe, Yahoo!

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