Why marketers should not be adopting a ‘mobile first’ strategy

The latest report from Ofcom found that internet access has hit a milestone, with more people accessing the web via smartphones than any other device. However this doesn’t mean brands should be thinking “mobile first” but that they should be looking at how they integrate mobile effectively into their marketing plans.


IPC hopes its new mobile tool can show advertisers how they can engage with readers across all its brands.

The annual Communications Market Report from Ofcom found that 33% of people see their smartphone as the most important device for going online, compared to 30% who cite their laptop. That is a shift from a year ago when 22% went to their phone first, behind laptops on 40%.

Not only are smartphones the preferred device, they are also used most often. Smartphone users spend two hours a day browsing the web, on average, compared to less than an hour for laptops and desktops.

However brands are still struggling to be make sure their marketing is mobile ready. While 80% of the top 250 UK brands have a mobile optimised website, 10% are running mobile display campaigns without a site that renders well on mobile, according to research from the Internet Advertising Bureau.

“Brands are finally putting mobile as a top priority. There are still some gaps though, especially when you consider that brands are spending their budgets on mobile advertising, however their shop fronts aren’t optimised for mobile,” says the IAB’ senior mobile executive Mike Reynolds.

James Poletti, head of digital strategy at RPM, welcomed the fact that the media industry can “finally stop predicting the ‘year of mobile’.”

“We can just get on with putting the small screen at the heart of all our work,” he says.

Ad budgets fail to follow eyeballs

Ad budgets are also failing to follow consumers to mobile. The Ofcom report found that while TV does remain the device people spend most time with, at three hours and 40 minutes every day, marketers still proportionately overspend.

The latest figures from the Advertising Association and Warc showed that TV ad spend in 2014 was $4.9bn. That is still three times as much as is spent on mobile, which accounts for £1.6bn of spend.

However as Matt Hill, research and planning director at Thinkbox points out, that while “time spent” is an important metric, other factors such as ad effectiveness should also be considered.

“TV needs to be seen in a broad context; its future is here and it is no longer just about watching live on the TV set.

“For marketers, TV’s future brings lots of opportunites around the new ways TV is being watch. But the most important figures are to do with effectiveness and there has been no dip there.

“Time spent is an important metric but for marketers effectiveness should be all.”

Matt Hill, research and planning director, Thinkbox

Why brands should not go ‘mobile first’

In terms of internet-connected devices, spend also isn’t keeping up. Total digital ad spend was $7.2bn last year, with mobile making up less than a quarter of that.

Mark Haviland, MD at Rakuten Marketing Europe, says that while just a quarter of purchases are made on smartphones a “significant proportion” are using mobile devices within a longer purchase journey that includes research and comparing products on mobile. This means that brands must adopt a strategy that works across devices, not just think mobile first.

“Marketers must realise the value of mobile as facilitator for commerce on other channels. Only with an omnichannel approach and optimised, targeted advertising, can marketers provide a seamless and consistent customer experience and make the most of this mobile boom,” he explains.

James Shepherd, Havas Media Group’s head of mobile, hopes the milestone will “apply pressure in the right areas” for brands to refocus attention on the importance of mobile as a way to reach their audience.

However he says mobile has been important for some time and it is its place within the media landscape that is the key issue, rather than the fact it is now the most popular device for browsing the web.

“The irony is we’ve been hit over the head with ‘mobile first’ for a while and now we’ve reached a tipping point of sorts I’m not sure mobile first is particularly relevant any more.

“Today’s consumer is device and location agnostic and they expect the brands and services they use to be where they are, with what they need, on whatever device they’re using. It’s important to bake mobile into everything we do. It’s an absolute imperative for every brand and [the Ofcom data] should highlight that.”

Hide Comments4 Show Comments
  • Mark McArthur-Christie 11 Aug 2015 at 8:08 am

    Mobile is hugely important, but context is everything. People struggle to deal with complex information on a mobile, particularly as they tend to use mobile as a ‘diversion’ or ‘filler’ activity while doing something else. Mobiles are great for transactions; not so good for absorbing complex information.

  • Adam Nicoll, FiveTen Group 11 Aug 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Not sure mobiles are always great for transactions … There are millions of people who struggle to get regular clear connection in their living rooms and millions more who use their mobiles on public transport with transactions getting derailed in train tunnels and on the tube; notwithstanding that mobile is clearly ‘a’ or ‘the’ key channel in the purchaser journey for many products. When it comes to recruitment however, I’ve not yet seen a smartphone or tablet for that matter which can easily help you amend/tailor a CV before applying for a role. Laptops and PC still trump smartphones on this part of our lives.

  • Samantha Tonge 17 Aug 2015 at 9:34 am

    “This means that brands must adopt a strategy that works across devices, not just think mobile first.”

    It helps if you actually know what “mobile first” is – this sentence demonstrates Mark Haviland hasn’t got a clue! It’s just a buzzword he has heard. Typical of Marketing Week.

    Do a bit of journalism and look up (or even better actually speak to) Luke Wroblewski who came up with it.

    Marketers should have an understanding of it, although mobile first is really a web designer & developer thing.

  • Chris Coote 17 Aug 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Hardly a surprise. We have always pursued ‘one fits all’ strategy for the web, apple and android.

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