IAB Research Reveals Uptick in Mobile Usage During Commute Time in China, Providing Critical Advertising Opportunity for Marketers

Chinese Smartphone Users Interact with Mobile Ads Three Times More on a Daily Basis Than Their American Counterparts

NEW YORK – A new research study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and IAB China uncovers a mobile “drive time” opportunity that is important to advertising success on smartphones and tablets with Chinese consumers. “The IAB U.S. & China Mobile Report 2014” demonstrates how consumers’ mobile use while commuting in China can be paralleled with premium commuter time radio in the U.S. This observation suggests that mobile ads served in China during travel to and from work could be similarly successful, facilitating purchases with an easier diversion to a store or restaurant on the way.

“Previous studies have pointed to our country as being ‘mobile first,’ and this study reinforces that fact, while uncovering key factors that can make all the difference when launching a mobile ad campaign in China.”

Fielded in both countries by GfK, the study explains that variances exist in when and where mobile device users consume media in each nation, due to both lifestyle and transportation system differences. The findings reveal that more U.S. mobile users consume media on their devices more when they first wake up in the morning (39%), while more Chinese users do so right before bed (45%). Chinese users also conduct media-related activities on their smartphone during their commute and at coffee breaks more than American users.

Viewing full-length TV shows on a smartphone is much more prominent in China than in U.S. – 71 percent of Chinese device users do so on a weekly basis compared to only 28 percent in the United States. The same country frequency pattern holds for tablet viewing, and is possibly a result of more public commuting versus driving to work. Screening of short clips on smartphones is also done by more Chinese device users on a weekly basis than by U.S. users (81% vs. 69%). On the other hand, American tablet users are twice as likely as those in China to use the device as a second screen while watching TV.

Contrasts persist in regard to mobile advertising as well. Chinese smartphone users are more likely to interact with ads on the device – almost six in ten (59%) do so at least once a day – triple that of American users (22%). Almost half (43%) of tablet users in China interact with ads daily, again higher than the U.S. (27%).

The characteristics of mobile ads most likely to elicit consumer response were similar in both countries and include:

  • Ads related to something that people are shopping for presently
  • Ads that include a coupon for an item that is already under purchase consideration
  • Ads that consumers think are “fun”
  • Ads for users’ favorite brands

“There is an old adage that ‘timing is everything’ and clearly that maxim holds true when it comes to mobile in both the United States and China,” said Sherrill Mane, Senior Vice President, Research, Analytics and Measurement, IAB. “Advertisers must be aware of crucial differences in time and place when it comes to optimizing ads in mobile media.”

In addition to timing of mobile usage and inclination to interact with ads, the report looks at consumers’ attitude towards mobile, revealing that 62 percent of Chinese smartphone users feel the device makes them more successful in their personal life – twice that of American smartphone users. These proportions are identical among tablet users in each country as well.

“The strong role mobile devices play in Chinese consumers achieving personal success, combined with their frequent interaction with ads on smartphones and tablets, creates an attractive scenario for marketers,” said Chen Yong, who leads IAB China. “Previous studies have pointed to our country as being ‘mobile first,’ and this study reinforces that fact, while uncovering key factors that can make all the difference when launching a mobile ad campaign in China.”

“Brands may want to be global in reach, but there are vital distinctions – and similarities – in behavior and perspective that must be embraced in order to successfully move marketing messages across borders via mobile,” said Anna Bager, Vice President and General Manager, Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, IAB.

To download the complete “IAB U.S. & China Mobile Report 2014,” please visit iab.net/mobilechina.


GfK conducted the online survey from July 23 through August 4, 2014. Consumers in China and United States were screened for age 18+ and weekly+ users of either a smartphone or a tablet and assigned to one of those device quotas. Additionally, China respondents were targeted in 11 major metro areas. The survey was conducted on a tablet or smartphone, depending on which quota assigned to. Full surveys were completed with approximately 500 respondents per country: United States – 255 smartphone users, and 250 tablet users; China – 252 smartphone users, and 250 tablet users. U.S. data was weighted on age/gender to smartphone and tablet owner benchmarks, with no weighting for China data.

About the IAB

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) empowers the media and marketing industries to thrive in the digital economy. It is comprised of more than 650 leading media and technology companies that are responsible for selling, delivering, and optimizing digital advertising or marketing campaigns. Together, they account for 86 percent of online advertising in the United States. Working with its member companies, the IAB evaluates and recommends standards and practices and fields critical research on interactive advertising. The organization is committed to professional development, elevating the knowledge, skills, and expertise of individuals across the digital marketing industry. The IAB also educates marketers, agencies, media companies and the wider business community about the value of interactive advertising. Founded in 1996, the IAB is headquartered in New York City.