Google’s sponsored ads remain a mystery to many Brits

The UK government’s annual look at media use and attitudes offers an array of insights and observations which can be applied —albeit indirectly — to the online travel sector.

The responses to questions about Google sponsored ads are relevant in a travel context, in terms of Google Flight Search and other initiatives such as Book With Google yet to come to UK users. OFCOM found that “only half of adults aged 16+ (49%) who use search engines identified sponsored links on Google as advertising”.

And Brits are also confused about how Google exists at all. Fewer than half gave the correct response when asked how it was funded, 32% said they didn’t know and 22% actually gave the wrong response, whatever that might have been.

Brits are not completely unaware of business concepts – 63% know where the BBC gets its money from (although that also means that one in three doesn’t know). And 74% understand the business model for commercial television (although that means one in four doesn’t).

The only specific mention of travel in the 200-page report references the British obsession with “saving money” – 36% of the sample said that they had “saved money” by buying their travel online, of whom 33% said that the savings were “very significant”.

Presumably one would need an offline price to compare the online price with in order to scale the savings, but the question doesn’t dig this deep. It is worth noting that when the study was carried out in 2010, 40% of the people thought they were getting significant savings buying travel online.

Generally, Brits are saying that they are less likely to make very significant savings by buying online than five years ago.

OFCOM explained this by saying “this may be due to increased familiarity with and ubiquity of buying things online, and therefore people’s perceptions about the extent to which being online saves them money are less foregrounded (sic) than they were.”

There’s no indication in the report about how many Brits are buying travel online. Overall, the percentage of people buying “things” online hasn’t changed since last year at 82%. What has changed is a big drop in transactions via laptops (down to 37% in 2015 from 50% in 2014) and desktops (down to 18% from 22%) and a hike in smartphone transactions – up to 24% from 15% – and tablets (up to 20% from 12%).

As more people use smartphones and tablets as transactional devices, responsively designed travel sites will benefit from the trend in the long term.

Another hot travel topic which is touched on generically is “personalization” although the usual confusion between privacy (keeping personal details about oneself to oneself) and security (keeping financial details out of the hands of criminals and fraudsters) still prevails.

Overall, there has been little change in Brits’ propensity to use their credit cards online, but there has been a shift in the number of Brits looking to keep their Facebook and Instagram accounts private.

Finally, as a sign that not only is the UK a mature online market but also that the established brands will continue to dominate, there has been a shift in what OFCOM calls narrow users, as in people who only visit a limited number of web sites. It notes an 11% increase [up to 42%] in the number of respondents agreeing that they ‘only use websites or apps that they’ve used before.’

Good news for Expedia and Bad news for any consumer-facing travel start-ups.

Click here to access the OFCOM holding page, from where the report can be accessed, by section or as one 200+page PDF.

NB Image by Shutterstock

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Martin Cowen

About the Writer :: Martin Cowen

Martin Cowen is contributing editor for tnooz and is based in the UK. Besides reporting and editing, he also oversees our sponsored content initiative and works directly with clients to produce articles and reports. For the past several years he has worked as a freelance writer, specialising in B2B distribution and technology. Before freelancing, from 2000-2008, he was launch editor for, the first online-only B2B daily news service for the UK travel sector.



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