In-app advertising: Why brands should explore the last great frontier

Keiligh Baker's picture
by Keiligh Baker

John-Paul Burke, UK, Ireland and the Nordics manager for Gameloft, talks about the importance of in-app advertising which, he says, goes beyond audience targeting capabilities and offers unparalleled levels of engagement and reach.

There was a time when in-app was seen by many as the Wild West of advertising – a lawless and largely unexplored territory. This is demonstrably no longer the case. According to recent research from PubMatic and Forrester, advertisers are now spending 45 per cent of their budgets on mobile, half of which goes to in-app.

It makes sense that budgets are flowing this way. Consumers are expected to download more than 350 million apps by 2021. Mobile gaming is huge, with 27m British mobile owners playing games on their phones. The PubMatic/Forrester research shows that the industry has clocked on to the fact that in-app (and in game), offers access to a huge audience and incredible targeting capabilities.

Not just a numbers game It’s encouraging to see hard figures which show the increased uptake of in-app, and which justify its place in the marketing mix. But the numbers don’t tell the full story. There are many more intangible benefits to advertising in-app that brands may be less aware of.

The scope for creativity and fun it offers, for example. In-app gives brands the licence to think outside of the confines of traditional formats – and instead consider how to cleverly use in-game interstitial ads, or even fully-branded custom-built games. As the games we play and the apps we use become more sophisticated, so too will the advertising formats on offer within them.

Marketers will be able to experiment with countless new ways to reach their audiences – enriched by, say, the growing use of VR technology, or super-fast 5G connections. And, there’s the positive brand association that’s up for grabs by engaging with consumers through their favourite games, or apps. We know this is something consumers are open to.

Fortnite hosted its first ever live virtual gig earlier this month starring EDM producer Marshmello – attended by over 10 million players. Not only can Marshmello now boast having laid on the best attended gig of all time, the partnership has created an unrivalled positive brand association for consumers.

Sure, this is an exceptional example. But a bit of the Marshmello magic can be seized by any brand who can embrace his pioneer spirit, and find and leverage the right in-app or in-game opportunity for them.

Safer and more transparent than ever

Despite the increased take-up of in-app, legacy concerns from brands around viewability and fraud within mobile platforms remain. The good news is that the industry made significant moves in 2018 to ensure that digital advertising is safer and more transparent than ever.

We saw an increased adherence by publishers to standards such as those set by the Coalition for Better Ads, and the use of respected measurement systems like MOAT and IAS (which track campaign viewability) - providing tangible evidence of a better, safer industry.

And, encouragingly, a whole raft of household name brands and publishers (including Gameloft) were accredited with the IAB’s new Gold Standard certification, introduced to reduce ad fraud and improve the digital advertising experience.

It’s clear already that 2019 will see the digital advertising industry double down on its commitment to transparency. The IAB just last month announced its “Transparency FAQs” online portal to help advertisers better understand the ad tech landscape, for example.

Try before you buy

So what are the best next steps for brands which have decided to take the first step into in-app, or are considering a more significant investment of budget?
Initiatives from bodies such as the IAB should provide reassurance to those which still fear the presence of outlaws in the in-app advertising space.

Yet brands can, and should, be doing their own research too. Investing time in familiarising themselves with an app or game by trying it out is a great first
step for those looking to advertise within a new environment.

There are also a variety of questions brands should be asking themselves before committing: what kind of reviews does the app receive from users? Do they have a quality policy? Crucially, do they have the user experience front of mind? Premium in-app companies should always put their users first.

Prioritising them over the advertising will make the ad experience better for all parties. The answers to these questions will help advertisers create a safe and effective in-app strategy.

Overall I’m thrilled, of course, to see perceptions about in-app shift, and the real industry commitment to fostering better digital advertising which has helped drive it. But there’s a part of me which would like to see just a tiny bit of the Wild West spirit remain in this space.

The in-app frontier is unlikely to stop expanding for many years to come – for brands which embrace an ethos of bravery and experimentation, and a willingness to take a gamble on something new, the potential rewards are huge.