We’re probably all in agreement now: the iPad was a game-changer. After initial grumblings the simple stretching of a mobile screen made apps, games and general content more accessible and engaging – and that also applied to mobile ads. The iPad Mini likewise became a welcome addition to the Apple family, despite a difficult birth.

But not content with large and small, the mobile family now has intermediate sizes and formats, collectively known as ‘phablets’. Depending on your viewpoint these are either large phones or small tablets with phone capability, and they could represent a mobile advertising sweet spot at the intersection of screen size, ad format and delivery mechanism.

Admire Apple, follow Facebook

Phablets are now cool. One year ago phablets were almost dismissed as a category, viewed as opportunistic by manufacturers trying to carve out market share and differentiate. Apple has now rubber-stamped that category with the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus and set a general direction of creating new phones with larger screens.

This is a good thing. There’s been plenty of evidence for quite some time that bigger ads are more effective. MoPub has found that an increase from 320×250 units to 480 x320 can yield 10 times the clickthrough rate (CTR), 160% cost per mille (CPM) and over twice the ad spendInneractive demonstrates a clear correlation between screen size and CTR. And more recently, Smaato’s Ajitpal Pannu has gone on record explaining the opportunities that increased sizes bring to mobile advertising.

When we look at the campaigns we have run, combined with Celtra findings, we also see significantly higher levels of consumer engagement at much lower cost with full-screen ad formats. The numbers show that while prices for full-screen ad formats as CPM are higher than those for expandable banners, the overall cost per engagement is over twenty-five times more effective with full-screen, if not more. The implication is clear: a bigger ad triggers a more powerful response.

And if you really want to follow the leaders, take a look at Facebook. They are now the biggest provider of mobile advertising and only support full-screen ad formats. This strongly indicates that brands prefer bigger ad spaces, and Facebook is now leading the market both in terms of direction and innovation. Moreover, Facebook’s growing mobile advertising revenue stream alone should also act as a barometer to the industry in terms of what’s working.

So the phablet’s combination of a device small enough to slip into a pocket (ideally not your back pocket however) but with a screen large enough to make ads engaging is hugely attractive to advertisers. This is especially so when Apple takes such a lead, with its reputation for kick-starting new industries.

I’m not alone in thinking this. Johnny McDermott says on Digiday that he believes the phablets will help smooth publishers’ transition to mobile. Meanwhile TapSense’s Ash Kumar runs through how the iPhone 6’s larger screen and other features can help developers and advertisers alike.

Tech on both sides of the screen

But it’s not all about screen size. There are two other important technology elements at play here.

First, the technology that powers these screens can also drive ultra-smooth, beautifully rendered HD video, which is a hot mobile advertising format. Again, Facebook is a bellwether here. If you look at your Facebook app you should be noticing more and more video ads displayed as the platform has evolved from text through to graphics through to video. And Sheryl Sandberg herself has already volunteered the reasoning behind Facebook’s video strategy, saying “Video represents a really big opportunity really driven by consumer behaviour.”

Advertisers and brands already ‘get’ video, especially when it’s full-screen. Instead of shoe-horning ads into small banner sizes, or taking them apart and stitching them back together for rich media, they can use video intact. And they have vast amounts of experience and collateral to draw on, to tell joined-up brand stories that work as well on TV as they do on mobile devices.

Users also ‘get’ video. They don’t have the confusion of clicking different options for different results. If the full-screen video is right for them, with the right targeting, creative and message, then they know they just have to click to find out more.

Secondly, the tech ‘behind the screen’ is important too – that is, the means of actually getting from a mobile ad request, to a mobile ad impression. Here, the best means of achieving mobile targeting at scale is proving to be programmatic trading, or to give it the common moniker, Real-time Bidding (RTB).

Mobile RTB is where we can bring big data and sophisticated machine learning to bear on the decision first of all whether to bid for a mobile ad space and if so, how much. This programmatic approach finds the inventory that simply performs the best for any type of ad, at scales in the order of billions of mobile ads served a day, and this is whyExchangeWire dubs the IAB’s latest figures on programmatic as representing ‘an unstoppable force’.

The mobile tech intersection

So we’re looking here at a mobile tech Venn diagram.

Top left, we see the tech that enables formats such as full-screen and video that really work for advertisers and publishers alike. Top right is the most effective delivery mechanism, programmatic. And now, with Apple’s blessing, at the bottom we have tech that enables devices small enough to be truly mobile, and large enough to show engaging ads. In the middle, in that sweet spot, we have the beneficiary – mobile advertising.

This is happening, now, and with forward momentum. The audience base of phablets is booming, with figures emerging such as four times the app activity coming from phablets over the past 12 months and twice the smartphone activity coming from apps in six months.

Combine this explosion in user base with Mary Meeker’s finding that there continues to be a delta between media consumption via mobile devices (20%) and mobile ad spend (4%) and this starts looking like a huge opportunity waiting to be monetised.

Who’s grumbling now?

Stephen Upstone

Stephen Upstone


Stephen Upstone, CEO & Founder, LoopMe.