However popular and hyped mobile advertising has become, the truth is that, as a platform and a practice, it is still in its infancy. Advertisers are always looking for innovative ways to communicate in engaging ways while publishers are in desperate need for better tools to integrate ads in ways that optimize monetization without hurting the user experience.The good news is, mobile technologies are constantly innovating, inventing and adding new features in order to improve the ad experience. To leverage these new technologies, “ad innovation labs”, teams dedicated to inventing and creating ever-more engaging and performing ad formats, are playing an increasingly bigger role.Drawing from our own experience at AppLift, here’s how ad innovation is changing our industry and benefiting all its stakeholders.
Eskimos In the Desert: the Issue With Traditional Ad Formats On Mobile
Banners were created for the desktop display in the early nineties. Today, we still see a lot of those traditional banners on brand new mobile devices. Unsurprisingly, banners don’t perform nearly as well on mobile, as the desktop and the touch screen experiences differ a lot in several aspects.The truth is that the mobile revolution has changed both user behavior and market needs. Traditional desktop banners are defined in standardized sizes and shapes and their interaction possibilities are limited to mouseover or click. On mobile, as the mouse-over doesn't apply to the touch screen, users are left with nothing but a “tap area” which they are frustratingly unable to interact with.As a consequence, touch screen users react with “banner-blindness”; they become insensitive to banners and eventually stop seeing and touching them.
Who Benefits from Ad Innovation?
Although banners still play a major part in digital advertising, it is becoming more evident that pixelated gifs in high-resolution screens aren’t communicating anything to users any more. Adapting their size to fit smaller screens indeed usually results in the following:
- Scaled down (to a small banner) and unnoticeable.
- Medium scaled (to half the screen) but still too small to hold engaging content.
- Scaled to fit the whole screen but intrusive and annoying.
It is time to unveil the potential of mobile experience by fostering hands-on innovation. Here’s how ad innovation labs can help the mobile industry’s stakeholders.UsersOne of major changes in mobile advertising is that, in order to make ads compelling and engaging, users need to participate in their storytelling. There’s a broad range of possibilities as users are no longer passive: they can choose apps from recommendation widgets, play or get app previews in playable ads, engage with rich media ads (with images/video and user interaction), or get social and share exciting findings through social media accounts. Of course it all depends on users’ intentions. A “function-focused user” might go over the ad, but a “navigating user” might find this experience interesting and interact with it. Here, the user experience plays a major part. For this reason, ad innovation teams can create formats that users are more likely to be familiar with. For example, our team at AppLift’s Ad Innovation Lab created the Swiper and the Youplay ad units, to respectively mirror the Tinder and YouTube experiences users are already familiar with.
On the mobile web specifically, ad formats no longer having to rely on Flash Player, their limits are currently being pushed by new technologies such as video display and HTML5. The latter allows to build up high quality animations and interactions which work consistently and seamlessly across the vast majority of browsers and mobile devices.Advertisers With a large part of the market unfortunately still relying on traditional display ads and fighting banner blindness, ad innovation strives to build ads delivering engaged users to mobile advertisers.The International Advertising Bureau (IAB), for instance, set several quality conditions to qualify for what they named the “Rising Stars” units. The IAB Rising stars are “ad units that tap into the breadth of cutting-edge technology available today, providing new tools that resonate with consumers and serve as powerful vehicles for advertisers”. According to data released in March 2014 by PointRoll, clickthrough rates for rising stars were 70% higher than for standard placements, and video completion rates experienced a 19% lift.” According to the same study, users spend more time engaging with Rising Star Units than with standard banners. Interactive ads complemented with content about the app advertised is a combination that generates engagement, and this even before the user installs the app.Consequently, it delivers higher quality traffic and engagement for advertisers.
PublishersAs for the publisher side, ad innovation labs are enabling the conditions for efficient monetization. For instance, at AppLift we create ad units either displaying multiple offers or just one offer that fits its app or page environment. From the design to the user actions, we can tailor the ad to a more native experience by adding content to the context, therefore keeping the audience hooked. As the size of mobile screens vary greatly across platforms, manufacturers and handsets, we design formats which are adaptable and responsive to different screen sizes.Publishers can then choose between e.g. a rather discreet 320x50 traditional banner or a native ad unit, knowing that it will adapt to fit the screen and provide a great user experience regardless of which device it ends up on.
The Ongoing Cycle of Innovation: Towards Ever More Performing Ad Formats
Ad format innovation usually stems from a market need, whether it is a necessity to improve performance of a particular integration or a new format vision that could make a difference. Here we would like to share the process and best practices employed at AppLift to succeed through innovation.From design mock-ups, we start building prototypes that go into testing. In order to validate new formats, we then submit them to rigorous testing against our control version, i.e. the existing format currently performing best. Once the format’s potential is validated, an intense A/B testing process starts. Multiple variations of the elements help to identify the best-performing version, which we will then put to trial in the market. Once released, the optimization process continues for every publisher.We support our steps with detailed analytics on user behavior, number of interactions, number of plays, impressions, conversions, etc. Once this is completed, we test the format’s performance in various geos, in order to prove its cultural adaptability and international potential. New formats are constantly tweaked in terms of tech, animation, interaction or design. Iteration isn’t a closed loop but an open process with constant re-dos and optimization to reach the highest performance possible.
Today, possibilities for interaction are endless: users can touch ads, play with them, watch them, respond to them, share them, etc. Most importantly, they get to experience ads which they actually enjoy. The banner as we know it should eventually crawl back to desktops (hopefully), and innovative ad units will continue to show their potential, delivering great advertising experiences, engaging users with advertisers and helping publishers monetize their apps and mobile websites while preserving, and even enhancing, their user experience.If you have comments, questions, or would like to know more about the AppLift Ad Innovation Lab, contact us at blog[at]applift.com or let us know in the comments!
Author Ana Moniz is Designer at AppLift's Ad Innovation Lab. She joined AppLift in mid 2014 after finishing her master degree in architecture. Her role in the team involves creating mockups for ad units integration, development of rich media ad units using HTML5 including video, animation, and user interaction.