Demystifying mobile

19 Apr 2017  |  Gavin Stirrat 
Demystifying mobile

We have failed to fully articulate the dramatic impact that mobile apps should be having on media plans, writes Gavin Stirrat

To open, a few caveats on the title of this article. Firstly, mobile is - on the face of it - in rude health. According to the IAB, spend on mobile is growing faster than any other medium in advertising.

Secondly, mobile web arguably does not need to be demystified, as it shares a lot of the characteristics of desktop, and therefore is traded using a lot of platforms and tools already being used for desktop.

The area of mobile that does need demystifying is the in-app space. The fact we still don’t fully get in-app is a pretty sizeable issue given that mobile apps represent almost 90% of mobile time, and 20% of total media time. While there is currently investment into apps, more of this (at least from big-name brands) typically happens through insertion order (IO) buys, and a far smaller proportion flows through programmatic pipes.

Several weeks ago, at Advertising Week Europe, there were a number of criticisms made of mobile, including blaming mobile for retargeting, plus accusations that the app universe is murky. The first of these requires only a quick response: mobile is not to blame for retargeting campaigns that have no concept of frequency capping, either on an impressions-per-day or a post-conversion basis.

Whilst I agree it’s a major irritant, that’s one for the retargeters to explain, and it’s as prevalent on desktop as it is on mobile.

The second of these - that the app world is “murky” - is a more complicated observation to answer, and on many platforms it is an accurate observation. Generally speaking, as an industry, we have perhaps failed to better articulate the dramatic impact that apps should be having on media plans.

It’s probably helpful to briefly describe the more traditional method of running campaigns - a planner will select several properties (for example a broadsheet newspaper) which have a readership that appeals to the brand in question, and execute the buy either through an IO, or through programmatic pipes and some form of guaranteed deal. These properties typically had reasonably scalable audiences and so a plan was not particularly complex to create.

As mobile emerged, we found that audiences started to migrate, but not just to the titles that they used to read on desktop. There was enormous fragmentation, and a huge amount of time was spent with a new breed of publisher (or developer) - typically in the utility, entertainment, dating or gaming verticals.

The time spent across all these apps increased enormously, as did the hours in the day we spent in these apps. If we define premium based on the size of an audience, mobile has become a 24-hour prime-time destination for consumers, and a huge opportunity for advertisers. In the early days of mobile, the ad networks packaged apps up (typically in a blind or semi-transparent fashion) and it was sold onto brands, making it feel like the challenge had been solved.

As buys have transitioned from IOs to programmatic, and that opaqueness has disappeared, buyers gain visibility of the app universe, and what they see does not always inspire confidence.

And because the tools they are used to using on desktop do not work in-app, the easy decision to enable the tick in the mobile box is to simply target mobile web. This has led to enormous amounts of in-app being swept up by performance marketers, and leaves the consumer with a sub-standard advertising experience - a situation not too dissimilar to the early days of desktop.

Creating confidence in the app universe is a critical step forward that the industry needs to make. It’s not unusual to see serious data quality issues in app inventory that flows through from exchanges which can include:

- app names that do not exist in the app store
- inaccurate categorisation of apps
- fraudulent apps that mimic well known apps.

In today’s climate where brand safety is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it’s tough for any buyer to overlook the concerns that any of the above issues create. Using a variety of partners and data sources, Voluum is trying to shine a light onto the app universe to enable our partners to determine where their ads will appear, and aggressively try to remove fraud pre-bid. But these tools remain relatively unique in the industry meaning that many do not have these insights and protections when they execute mobile programmatic buys.

It’s clear that consumers are continuing to invest ever longer periods of time on their mobile devices, and using apps, and the opportunity with the smart use of verification tools and data enrichment is enormous for advertisers. But across the industry, education on the environment, the audience and the tools available remains a sizeable challenge.

Gavin Stirrat is managing director, Voluum


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DanRedfearn, Business Development Director, Xaxis on 20 Apr 2017
“Good article, Gavin. One thing that that for me remains a blocker for increased spend into app inventory is the fragmentation in 3rd party ad serving and attribution across the plan. There are some initial efforts now to better attribute app inventory to mobile web conversion and align with desktop but it remains complex and "another thing" that the client has to get their head around before signing off on the plan.”


18 Aug 2017 

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