Is the future of mobile ads in-app or mobile web?

02 Jan 2018  |  Andrew Buckman 
Is the future of mobile ads in-app or mobile web?

Is there a viable future for ad-supported content in-app or should advertisers be focusing on mobile web? Andrew Buckman explores the pros and cons

In an on-the-go world, it looks as though apps are starting to outpace mobile web browsers in the battle for consumer attention. According to research from Flurry, UK app usage increased by 28% last year — and in the US, the power shift is even greater, with apps now absorbing 85% of time spent on mobile. But this doesn’t necessarily mean brands should be switching their entire mobile advertising budget to apps. Appearances, after all, can be deceiving.

While app popularity is undeniably rising, closer analysis of the data reveals the number of apps in use is actually declining. In 2016, UK uptake of social media apps increased by 46%, yet usage of games and entertainment apps fell by 9% and 18% respectively. In the US the story is similar, with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube taking the lion’s share of users’ app time.

So, is there a viable future for ad-supported content in-app or should advertisers be focusing on mobile web? Let’s explore the pros and cons:

In-app versus mobile web: capability

When it comes to choosing media environments, data availability is a vital consideration for advertisers. With the ability to access device IDs, apps enable advertisers to track individual activity. Using this insight, they can deliver targeted messages that improve their chances of piquing consumer interest, and boosting sales.

Yet it’s not all plain sailing. As a closed system where developers wield control, in-app can make it difficult for advertisers to amalgamate data sources and produce a holistic view of individual journeys and campaign performance. Additionally, as most consumers only use a handful of apps, the data advertisers are able to collate is often limited.

In contrast, mobile web advertising is easier to navigate – largely because the ecosystem is well established. Advertisers can deploy multiple tools that borrow mechanisms from the desktop world to gather and assess browser data, typically obtaining insight via cookies. And the absence of device IDs hasn’t reduced effectiveness. A recent global study by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) found the number of consumers inspired to take action by both formats was almost equal — 47% for in-app ads and 45% for web. In fact, the research also showed web ads had a lasting effect; hitting a recollection rate of 90%, versus 86% for app-based ads.

Delivering the best user experience

From shopping to monitoring heart rates, there is an app for everything. At last count there were 12 billion developers worldwide. But although many apps provide efficient versions of important services, it doesn’t follow that they provide the best user experience.

Firstly, the need to install apps creates a gap between initial download and action, which can present a barrier to adoption for consumers who value speed. Secondly, quality is varied and many apps lack the smart features required to keep consumer interest, with the average app losing 77% of its users three days after installation. Indeed, such is the risk of fading app attention that retailers have begun exploring ways of incentivising usage; making exclusive discounts available in e-wallets or when shoppers enter ‘in-store’ mode. And for advertisers this means that despite the ubiquity of apps, consumer engagement isn’t always guaranteed.

Mobile browsers, however, can be accessed quickly and with comparatively little effort. At a swipe, consumers can load their favourite sites and — if they have given permission for sites to monitor past behaviour or retain log in details — pick up where they left off on their last shopping session. So, for consumers seeking a more personal and streamlined mobile experience, the web is frequently a more alluring option, and in turn, it’s also a potentially better choice for advertisers seeking to connect with consumers in a receptive state of mind.

Complying with the GDPR rulebook

Most advertisers are aware of the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); the new set of EU laws due to be enforced in May 2018. By clarifying consumer rights and giving individuals control over their data, this robust rulebook is set to change the way information is managed globally. And its effect on in-app and mobile web ads will be sizeable.

The most crucial element for both formats will be the stipulation that businesses must gain consent to use personal data. This data covers much of the insight in-app and mobile web ads rely on for tailoring, such as IP addresses, device identifiers, and cookies. Consequently, advertisers will need to ensure their delivery mechanism, app or browser, communicates what sort of data is gathered and why, as well as providing the means for individuals to opt in or out.

Chief among the other key points are the requirement for privacy by design and the right to be forgotten. New apps will need to be built with privacy protection at their core, which means advertisers must chose their placements carefully. The opportunity for consumers to question data retention could also impact availability; any insight not deemed essential to services could be deleted, regardless of its advertising utility.

But the GDPR doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Of course, the overhaul of data practices will create challenges, but by driving the industry to refine the insight processing, it may actually result in higher quality data for advertisers, and experiences for mobile users.

Thus, when the advantages and drawbacks of in-app and web ads are weighed together, it’s hard to choose an overall victor. At present, the usability and technological diversity of mobile web means the balance is tipping in its favour. But as apps continue to play an integral role in consumers’ daily lives, it’s likely efforts to address current issues will be stepped up. What we can be sure of is that mobile formats of every kind will be a firm fixture in the advertising landscape of the future.

Andrew Buckman is managing director EMEA, Sublime Skinz


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