Surbhi Dhawan

Contributing Writer |

5 min read

Mobile vs Desktop native ads : What are the key differences?

In today’s fast-paced, competitive landscape, brands everywhere are constantly re-inventing how they attract prospects and convert them into full-time customers. From media companies and publishers to eCommerce or consumer brands, there’s no denying the inevitable: Most consumers aren’t very responsive to traditional, disruptive banner ads anymore. As a result, the native ad spend has increased consistently in the last five years — simply because native ads seamlessly blend in with a website format, and are not disruptive to the user experience.

Source: eMarketer

Earlier, desktop used to be predominantly the platform for running any or all kinds of advertising campaigns but mobile has recently gained traction in the market. If you’re planning to invest in native advertising for your brand and are confused about which platform to with, consider the following parameters before making a decision:

  • Personal targeting:
    Mobile combines a personalized experience with a more powerful tracking system.

    Although desktop has had a substantial head start over mobile in terms of marketing funnels, and conversion optimization tools, the advantages have not stood the test of time due to the industry’s massive growth. After the EU announced that users need to be explicitly informed about the cookies that a desktop’s unified tracking system uses, there was a sharp decline in the effectiveness of ad campaigns.

    As a result, marketers, especially ones using native tools, were driven to find better solutions for reaching out to the right audience.

    Mobile uses a unique ID (instead of cookies) to identify and store vital user information. As opposed to cookies, these IDs are also more resilient and can persevere across version updates without being lost in the event of a device upgrade.

    Despite the problems with having only one central tracking ID and the sheer volume of data produced by billions of users, mobile allows you to measure way more user analytics than desktop does. For example, mobile has access to information regarding the device’s built-in features like storage capabilities, GPS, gyroscope, and even the accelerometer.

    On the other hand, the desktop is severely limited to only the browser content, and the system’s IP address and referral source. As a result, the mobile is able to capture user interactions that desktop cannot. Coupled with the introduction of elegant dashboards and diverse functionalities, brands can keep tabs on their users — existing and potential to determine who matters the most for long-term success.

    For example, Facebook’s dashboard is designed to allow personalization of ad campaigns that helps you identify users based on a wide array of interests and tailor your native ads to really flourish. Therefore, instead of hoping for virality by running a campaign on a major desktop publisher, native advertising can be an absolute game-changer when you use contextual targeting on mobile. 
  • User reachability:
    Even though mobile offers an obvious audience advantage, it’s important to remember that the trend of volume alone being the deciding factor for the success of native advertising has passed.

    Mobile continues to stand out from desktop because of the conceptual difference between how the general population uses the two platforms for content consumption.

    Consider this: I’m simultaneously using the word processor on my desktop (PC) to write this post and run a number of browser tabs for research purposes. As a fellow marketer, I’m also dabbling in tools like Adbeat to understand the advertising strategy of a competitor, and Zapier to schedule posts on social media. Overall, the desktop has easily become a platform that most of us reserve for professional productivitya space designed for focus.

    Contrarily, mobile has become an integral part of your everyday life. Tim Hayden and Tom Webster, authors of The Mobile Commerce Revolution perfectly explain how people have more “intimate expectations” from their devices:

    “The device [the smartphone] goes to the bathroom with most users…and we already highlighted studies that show that some smartphone users will answer a call, text or social media notification [in the bedroom].”

    Given that the majority of your target audience uses mobile on a much more personal basis, you’re in a better position to reach out to them for advertising. With native ads on mobile, you’re not disturbing them at work or at a time which they’re supposed to be concentrating. You’re meeting them in a much more personal space – a context that’s crucial to the creation of high-performing ads.

    Lastly, given the personal nature of mobile devices, you’re expected to have more luck understanding user behavior of a specific individual, as compared to a shared-family desktop that’s likely to have several users.

  • CTR and viewability:
    According to BI Intelligence, native ads that appear on mobile as sponsored or branded content reportedly have higher engagement rates than on desktop. Not only this, the click-through rates (CTR) for native ads was the highest on mobile devices (smartphones: 0.38 percent, tablet: 0.33 percent) in 2015. Meanwhile, desktop struggled with a CTR of 0.16 percent.

    In terms of viewability, smartphone users spend an average of 3 minutes and 54 seconds looking at native content, as opposed to the desktop users who spend only 2 minutes.

    The variation in numbers may be explained the ad-blocking habits that are prevalent in today’s consumers. Globally, 45 percent of them use an ad-blocker of some kind because they’re more cynical, cautious, and intolerant towards any form of intrusive advertising.

    In the last decade, the number of users who’ve installed ad blockers on their desktop has increased from approximately 21 million to more than 181 million. So, regardless of how catchy your copy is, your native ad campaigns are bound to deliver an unsatisfactory performance when run on desktop, simply because not enough people will be seeing them.

  • Conversion rate:
    Since desktops offer the comfort of a larger screen, they’re usually preferred by most consumers for browsing and for making online purchases. Mobile devices are often used when a person has something in particular that they are looking for. Often, it’s for pre-purchase research where they compare two products or check reviews from existing consumers before making a decision.  Naturally, this means that mobile has a better mid-funnel conversion rate.

    Source: invespcro

    A native ad is more likely to be successful on mobile if you’re looking to create brand awareness or want to target users in the consideration stage. However, on desktop, you’d be better off creating campaigns that are meant to attract users who’re in the decision stage and have already made up their mind about buying a product.

    In short, on mobile, your ads should be content-first and focus on your brand, whereas, on desktop, you should use appropriate CTAs like Buy Now, or Learn More.

  • Audience size:
    At a fundamental level, mobile has a bigger audience size (nearly 200 million users more than desktop) that gives the platform an unparalleled advantage when it comes to advertising.

    Mobile also accounts for 59.9% of all internet traffic and is projected to become the fastest-growing advertising channel by 2020.

    Source: nativeadvertisinginstitute

    Considering that native advertising is slowly shifting from publishers to social media, more and more brands are spending their native ad budget on Facebook which explains why 87% of their income actually comes from mobile ads.

    Another interesting tidbit is that most users prefer watching videos on their smartphones, which has led to brands incorporating using video-based messaging in their business models and native ads to attract users.

    Source: amazonaws

    In short, given the current advertising trends, you can reach a large number of people by running ads on mobile as opposed to the desktop. 

While desktop seems to be losing the battle against mobile, it’s important to remember that both channels cater to very different (and often specific!) needs for the consumers. When you have clarity on the kind of audience you are targeting, you’re in a better position to determine which channel will be better at communicating your marketing message.

For example, the Gen Y (25-39 years) old prefers mobile both in terms of usage and ownership. According to a Twitter study, the younger your target audience is, the more receptive they’re towards native ads and other content marketing initiatives.

On a related note, online shopping has a clear gender bias. Women are more likely than men to use a desktop to make a purchase, whereas, men (as opposed to women) are more open to using mobile devices for buying anything online.

Overall, we must acknowledge that there are notable differences between desktop and mobile. Targeting one channel over the other will only help you deliver different messages,  get different results, and achieve different targets. 


Surbhi Dhawan

Contributing Writer |