Targeting Activity, Not Just People

“Congratulation on beating level 3 of ‘Hop Scotch With Friends,’ Here is a reward from your new friends at Acme brand roadrunner insurance.”

Or something like that.

But this is the basic model for in-app advertising from appssavvy, a company that pivoted from an earlier model of brokering and packaging deals between sponsors and app developers. While that model worked in the early stages of Facebook and mobile app development to bring advertisers into the app universe in a more integrated way than networked banners, the company was looking for a technology that could scale across apps and in more standardized formats. As co-founder and CEO Chris Cunningham told me recently, the move towards the May 2011 launch of the adtivity platform was aimed at establishing an infrastructure and technology to “unlock new inventory based on what people are doing.”

The approach works within social media and mobile apps to capture people’s attention as they are engaging activities they already like. “We are solving the problem of reaching the consumer on the Web, Facebook and mobile that triggers an ad based on natural and organic activities rather than a profile or a cookie,” he says.



To wit: in a virtual town building app on Facebook, the user initiates an activity in the simulation, which brings up an activity interaction window that includes an invitation to interact with Coca-Cola and like the brand on Facebook. A character from the game itself is the pictured “host” of the ad 600x300 ad unit. “Activity is the trigger,” Cunningham argues. Also important is integration with the app flow. “With Coca-Cola, we got their creative built in a way that is conducive to users as a level-up. So the activity in social games is making an avatar and sending a gift when you complete missions.”

Cunningham says that unlike other attempts at social marketing, this isn’t necessarily pretending not to be advertising. “We are looking for a different kind of inventory. If people are uploading photos or polling, why not monetize that? You can create an ad unit based on natural and organic activities.”  

Appssavvy’s adtivity network is running mostly on Facebook (about 55%) but another 25% is on the Web, with the remaining share on the growing market in mobile apps. On Web inventory the method of using richer media to target activities is rendering about 1.5% click or interaction rates, but on mobile the company is seeing between 5% and 15%. The overall reach is 60 million users.  

Ultimately, even an activity-based targeting approach is interruptive, so my guess is its effectiveness relies considerably on the level of integration with the activity at hand. After all, if you are playing a game that you love, how eager would you be to stop that experience to “Like” a brand? Perhaps you would if there was a demonstrable pay-off.

As more of the advertising economy looks to social and mobile apps as sites for engaging consumers, an old rule of thumb in games advertising is best remembered. Long ago, the savviest marketers in video game experiences learned that impeding an activity people enjoy is not the best way to their hearts and mind. Letting users do more of what they came to the app to do in the first place is the best route.

Apps give marketers another shot at getting digital right. A century of passively consumed mass media was based on interruptive advertising. Interactive media of all kinds (not just games) imply that users are leaning in and themselves engaged in a process. They are more deeply invested and focused on goals of some kind. Interactivity is not conducive to interruption. It invites (probably rewards) advertising that facilitates and makes more enjoyable the media that users are now driving rather than consuming. 

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