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Consumer attention shifts to smartphones

2014-09-29 09:21 Shanghai Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan
Joseph WebbHead of digital at TNS Asia-Pacifi c

Joseph WebbHead of digital at TNS Asia-Pacifi c

While television sets still sit in almost every Chinese home, television no longer commands the dominance it once did. Consumer attention, especially during evening prime time, is increasingly being diverted by smartphones and tablets.

Two thirds of Chinese watch television every day, while 33 percent watch online videos daily, either on personal computers, tablets or mobile phones, according to TNS, a research firm under the Kantar division of the WPP Group.

In its most recent Connected Life report, TNS said the ratio of those forsaking television for online entertainment is higher than the global average of 25 percent.

Globally, nearly one third admit to "screen-stacking," a phenomenon whereby they use multiple devices at the same time, for instance, using their mobile whilst watching TV.

Out of the average of 3.9 hours that Chinese Internet users spend online everyday, mobile devices make up 2.2 hours.

Joseph Webb, head of digital at TNS Asia-Pacific, sat down with Shanghai Daily in an exclusive interview to discuss the research findings and what they mean to advertisers.

Q: What's the biggest change you see in this year's Connected Life report?

A: The shift is toward mobile devices, with more and more lower-priced smartphones available on the market. Local handset makers such as Xiaomi and Huawei give a wider group of consumers access to online media.

Last year, we saw the trend appear in the 16-30 age group. This year, it is extending to mainstream mass consumers.

The surprising thing is the change in the media landscape brought about by the shift toward mobile. Smartphones and tablets are driving online video watching. Compared with mature markets like Europe and the US, Chinese consumers watch less TV and more online videos.

Q: Was there anything surprising in your findings?

A: Despite all the talk about China being the biggest e-commerce market in terms of money spent, it is actually very underdeveloped in terms of the proportion of people buying online. Major concerns are still security of payments and product integrity. Once information transparency is resolved and consumers feel more assured, more value can be realized through online retailing.

Q: What about attitudes toward advertising?

A: There is usually a greater level of cynicism toward advertising in mature markets. The more advanced an economy, the more consumers are bored by advertising.

But it's different in China. Here, there isn't such a long-term legacy because the earliest advertising dates back only about 35 years. The advertising industry has enjoyed huge growth since then, and consumers have not yet grown cynical. Maybe the next generation will be, but for now, most consumers are quite open to branding. There is a huge potential for marketers.

Q: Which advertising formats work best with consumers?

A: Brands need to fight harder to cut through the media congestion during the evening prime time, so there are three major trends at the moment. First, a quiet, focused time for the message is essential — for example, before office hours or during commuting periods. The second is finding a brand relevant to those times — working out when your message is most likely to resonate with people. A coffee brand, for example, would find the morning hours most ideal. The third trend is integration of formats, rather than just relying on a single channel.

My advice? Don't advertise on just TV alone. You need to combine different formats to maximize the impact on people during prime times.

Technology and the media landscape in China have changed very quickly into a polarized market. Residents in first-tier and second-tier cities have the latest handsets, but some may still be using a feature phone and a sharing TV with their families.

In a recent study we did for a premium car brand, we found they were seeking to target a female audience without diluting the nature of a very masculine brand. It's hard to achieve that through TV alone. It would be a lot easier to identify what TV shows and websites attract female audiences and then deliver a targeted message.

Q: There is a lot of discussion about dwindling TV viewership. What do you think about the role of TV sponsorship?

A: Castrol recently launched a campaign during the Chinese Idol program, where viewers vote for the candidate to keep in the game. It's a clever move to reach a large viewing audience through sponsorship, while at the same time driving engagement through a Castrol mini-site to give viewers a further impression of how engine oil can protect a vehicle and give it better performance.

Brands are trying to use online channels to forge long-term, lasting relationships with consumers.

Only 64 percent of Chinese viewers devote undivided attention when watching TV while 36 percent are simultaneously engaged in some form of digital activity, slightly lower than the global level of 41 percent.

The growing challenge is that the number of people who exclusively focus on watching TV will get even smaller in the future. The rest will be split over various forms of media because their attention will be more fragmented. Marketers need to be prepared for TV's role to be weakened in the future, although, at the moment, it's still where most advertising expenditure goes.

Q: What about mobile shopping?

A: In global markets where a mobile device is the only access to the Internet, there is very little e-commerce because of trust issues.

In China, the proportion of online sales completed through mobile channels is still less than 20 percent, yet this is one of the most advanced markets for mobile commerce. There are more innovative business models here because software like WeChat offers a convenient payment channel.

This could become a big challenge for a platform like Taobao, which may see commerce increasingly turning to WeChat.

Chinese tech companies love to go it alone and are constantly trying to take other players' market share. For example, Alibaba is adding social features to Taobao and Tmall, while Tencent hopes to catch up with e-commerce through new WeChat functions.

Marketers need to focus on categories where people are dedicating more time to research and reading online comments. It's important to capitalize on that trend because people are more likely to pick up their smartphones and search for price and product information.

In China, categories in the lower price range — such as personal care, cosmetics, baby care and household products — are driving online research as people try to find the best deal for themselves.

Travel and personal care are the top categories where consumers are willing to engage with brands and offer user-generated content.

Mobiles also offer a good channel for brands with normally low levels of engagement because they are much easier to search and interact with.

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