Understanding the iPad

It’s no exaggeration to say that digital marketers have been observing the market growth of tablets like the iPad with excitement, bewilderment, and – perhaps – a sense of foreboding. It hasn’t even been a year since Apple’s revolutionary device hit the shelves and already the iPad has surpassed Apple’s Mac portable computer business. The company sold nearly 15 million iPads last year, and 7.33 million of those were during Q1 2011 – Apple’s holiday quarter – alone.

This kind of phenomenal growth is bound to incite a strong reaction. Whether we like it or not, the iPad is here and we are now required to take action. Soon, advertising with this medium may no longer be viewed as an opportunity, but a necessity. In the meantime, though, we must learn to understand it.

Is It Mobile?

To complicate matters and make the immediacy to succeed in this endeavor more taxing, the interactive marketing industry is still very much in the midst of trying to figure out not just how well iPad advertising will work, but how to categorize the segment and interpret its user base. Without knowing what else to compare it to, most research groups turn to mobile and end up with a convoluted attempt at defining a still-indefinable realm. Publisher Condé Nast is quite sure that the iPad should not be deemed a mobile device, but it’s Apple’s mobile iAd unit that will be used for iPad advertising. The first iPad iAd launched in December, instantly blurring the line between the tablet and a media buy on a mobile device like the iPhone or the iPod.

Who’s Using It?

We do have some sense of who is using the device: based on tracking data culled by Yahoo, it’s apparent that the iPad user base is about 60 percent male and 40 percent female, with an ongoing shift toward women users that could ultimately make the tablet fairly gender-neutral. The Nielsen Company reports that 63 percent of the male users are under the age of 35. This is a starting point, to be sure, but other essential considerations, such as consumer attitudes toward iPad advertising, largely remain to be seen.

The Trouble With the iAd

What of the ads themselves? They pose an interesting dilemma: while they seem to have the potential to perform for advertisers, advertisers may not be in a mad rush to buy them.

Though iAds on iPads remain scarce, the iAd in general is proving to have some marketing chops. In a new study sponsored by Apple and conducted by Nielsen CPG advertiser Campbell’s reveals that its iPhone and iPod iAds had a consumer recall rate more than twice that of its TV spots, and a brand recall rate more than five times that of TV. Even purchase intent was four times higher with an iAd than a TV commercial, and the iAds were more likeable, too. At the same time, Apple’s fill-rate is disappointingly low, having dropped from 16 percent to 8 percent in recent months.

This may not bode well for the iPad’s iAd, but allow me to amend a famed quote from “Jurassic Park” and say that, “advertising finds a way.” Even though the iPad iAds themselves have only just launched, brands and their mobile ad partners have been experimenting with iPad advertising for months through in-app ads. This isn’t an unprecedented situation; just consider how brands thought up their own ways to use Twitter while waiting for the social service to get its advertising organized.

It does, however, make one wonder how quickly advertisers will embrace the iPad iAd. As we’ve seen with the iAd to date, Apple is heavily involved with the creative process, which is resulting in long lead times for advertisers. The company is also keeping its campaign data on a short leash – something that won’t sit well with many brands. So those who do choose to go their own way instead of using the iAd format will find themselves without the targeting abilities and data to which they are accustomed.

This is an important year for Apple’s iPad, and for all of those media buyers with an eye on this opportunity. The question is: will they take it?

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