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The power of passive data

The power of passive data
MediaCom's Chief Strategy Officer, Sue Unerman, on what passive data can teach us about mobile phone usage.

I don’t suppose anybody needed another report to tell them that people in the UK spend time on their mobile phones.  But if anyone had any doubt about the revolution in media and communications that they represent then the IPA’s passive data report will remove that doubt for good. 

The report uses passive data to reveal mobile usage.  The stats speak for themselves: adults use their mobiles 264 times a day, rising to 387 times for 15-24s.  That means every other minute.  People, and especially, but not exclusively millennials, are carrying their friends around with them at all times in their pockets.  Social media means that you’re never alone – for some this has led to some anxiety about fear of missing out, but I think it is much more about the joy of staying in touch for most.  We’re also carrying our favourite shops around with us 24 hours a day.  Want to buy that dress now and get it tomorrow?  No matter what time it is?   Three-quarters of users are shopping on their smartphones.  We’ve come a long way from the early closing Wednesdays that the older cohort in this survey experienced when they were young.  And the older group are shopping on their mobiles too with nearly a third of the over 65s shopping at Amazon. 

The detail in this report is very rich, and makes you want more.  It gives a snapshot of who is doing what on their smart phones and when they’re doing it which will add depth to all kinds of campaigns (not just mobile ones) and provides interesting stimulus for planners. 

 I expect that it will lead to the development of sophisticated use of second screen for advertisers; every moment now is a point of sale and an opportunity to earn shares for brand’s content or advertising if they deserve it.  It will also gradually but profoundly change people’s expectations of communications from brands.  The wrong kind of message at the wrong time will do nothing for your reputation and may begin to diminish brand warmth.  Just as social media has made the notorious British tolerance for bad service run out (when we see others complaining we won’t put up with things either), so the potential for getting communications wrong will become more possible.  Planners must use these opportunities with care therefore, and ensure that they are useful, interesting, entertaining or efficient in their messages to consumers (and not simply annoying or irrelevant). 

The right brand sending a specific message at the right time will be good news and an increased propensity to purchase.  The wrong kind of brand, or a brand getting the message or timing wrong, will be more likely to be dumped.  And above all it is crucial to be authentic in this world.  If you’re not, you will get found out very fast.  If consumers like what you say or do they will share it.  If they don’t like what you say or do they will share that too.

It is impossible now to imagine life without a mobile.  It should be equally impossible to construct a media plan without taking mobile comms into account.

Sue Unerman is Chief Strategy Officer at MediaCom.  Her book “Tell the truth, Honesty is your most powerful marketing tool” analyses the impact of media change on marketing.  

The next TouchPoints survey, to be launched on 9th October, will also include passive data measurement on mobile phones and, as a further enhancement, tablets.  The survey has also been refined and updated to include a deeper measure of all media consumption by device plus greater range of attitudinal statements on aspects such as online shopping, privacy and using second screens. For more information, visit:

Last updated 12/08/2015

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