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The trouble with mobile

More people than ever can go online from their phones and tablets, but advertising hasn't caught up.

A study came out recently saying half of all Americans can now connect to the web through a mobile device like smartphone or tablet. But Internet giants are having a hard time getting advertisers -- and consumers -- to embrace mobile advertising with the same enthusiasm.

And this problem is getting a name: the “mobile curse,” says Joe Laszalo is a researcher at Interactive Advertising Bureau.

“The mobile curse is the sense that companies that are doing very well as PC-oriented digital media companies are having the trouble making the transition to mobile,” said Laszalo.

Let’s take Google. Here’s how it makes most of its money: Type in “flat screen TV” and Google serves up a “paid link,” where you can click and buy that TV.

But getting consumers to do that on their mobile devices isn’t going so well.

“I don’t make large purchases with my cell phone because I feel like spending a large amount of money, I would like to do more research online, which is easier on a real computer,” said Nate Wickman, a computer science student who was walking through New York’s Grand Central Station.

Other passersby complained photos are hard to see, and if you click the wrong button, forget about it. But the mobile curse doesn’t stop there, said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at Altimeter Group.

“When you’re talking about mobile, you’re talking about a whole bunch of things,” Lieb said.

Facebook, for example, sells ads along the very right column of its website, but that column doesn’t exist on mobile. All you get on a smartphone is the newsfeed. So Facebook has been putting ads there, and that’s the good news, said Michael Pachter, a research analyst at WedBush.

“They had great success with that so far, we’re seeing click through rates that are literally 10 times,” Pachter said.

The curse? There are only so many ads people will put up with in their newsfeeds.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.
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