Study: Mobile Marketers Should Pay Attention to China

Where 71% of consumers watch videos on the go

Headshot of Lauren Johnson

Much has been made of cord cutters—consumers who ditch television sets to watch videos on smartphones and tablets—and how advertisers can grab their attention. But while U.S. broadcasters and companies try to play catch-up with more mobile content, new research from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) shows how smartphones and tablets have become the primary way to watch videos in China.

The IAB U.S. and China Mobile Report 2014 finds that a whopping 71 percent of China's mobile-toting consumers watch full-length TV shows straight from a smartphone or tablet on a weekly basis. Only 28 percent of U.S. respondents said the same.

The trend applies to short videos, too. Eighty-one percent of Chinese consumers watch clips weekly, compared to 69 percent of U.S. viewers.

"I think what we're seeing in some of the data in China is that there are [consumers] who either didn't have computers or if they had TVs, TVs were not central to what they did," said Sherrill Mane, svp of research, analytics and measurement at IAB. "When mobile came on the scene, mobile leapfrogged over other communication and technology. [China's] history and affinity for other communication screens is not as diverse, long and evolutionary as ours is."

IAB's research was conducted by GfK between July 23 and Aug. 4, including about 1,000 mobile surveys from smartphone and tablet owners in both countries.

Seventy-six percent of Chinese consumers used smartphones while on public transportation, and 49 percent pulled out their phones while in cars. Only 26 percent of Americans used their smartphones on public transport (likely because many buses and trains still lack Wi-Fi) while 64 percent used phones while in cars.

Smartphone-Geared Ads

Of course, that extra time correlates to the number of mobile ads that consumers interact with. Fifty-nine percent of Chinese smartphone owners engage with a mobile ad at least once a day, compared to 22 percent of Americans.

Eighty-six percent of Chinese consumers interact with mobile ads on a weekly basis, up from 52 percent of Americans. And 91 percent of China's users play with mobile ads monthly versus 62 percent of U.S. users.

When it comes to tablets, Americans are twice as likely to use the devices as a so-called second screen while watching television than their Chinese counterparts. 

But interestingly, 43 percent of Chinese tablet users interact with ads daily, more than the 27 percent of U.S. owners who do the same. On a weekly basis, 80 percent of Chinese tablet owners use the device to look at ads, and 88 percent interacted with promos monthly. Meanwhile, Sixty-four percent of Americans look at mobile ads weekly, and 70 percent interact with ads monthly.

After looking at a smartphone ad, participants in China did the following:

  • 62 percent accessed a coupon
  • 55 percent researched a product or service
  • 37 percent visited a local business
  • 37 percent bought something

On the other hand, Americans took different steps after viewing an ad:

  • 37 percent accessed a coupon
  • 28 percent researched a product
  • 20 percent visited a local business
  • 24 percent bought something

Mane said the differences in how consumers react to advertising shows a potentially lucrative market for advertisers in China, where consumers might be less jaded.

"[America has] a longer history of having ads throughout our media, entertainment and information diet, and perhaps U.S. consumers are a little bit more cynical about ads," Mane said.

"In China, they’re embracing this technology in an open way—they see it very much related to their personal success. It opens gateways to new content that perhaps they couldn’t have access to in the past. I think there’s a bit of an embrace of the advertising because that’s a form of content that perhaps they haven’t had the kinds of experiences with that the U.S. has."

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.