Commentary

Ad Networks Are Flying Blind

A brand is to the customer, everything. Advertisers carefully select which TV programs will be the context for their ad and choose which magazine an ad will appear in as a careful, long-discussed and researched decision.

There are demographic considerations—different shows or magazines if you are advertising to boomers versus millennials. The environment also matters a lot. The Super Bowl is a prime example, but only the most dramatic one, for picking the right content to surround an ad.   

When it comes to mobile, advertisers are flying blind. An ad will hit mobile channels and immediately be distributed across an amazingly complex web of advertising-related agencies and technologies that manage supply, demand, attribution, optimization and analysis.

With 400 billion impressions per month, advertisers can look at geography and some targeting, but when it comes to choosing apps on an individual basis, crickets.

It may be part conspiracy—everyone in the ad ecosystem has an incentive to make large campaigns work within a certain, often demanding time span. If Walmart wants to drive engagement around Thanksgiving sales, the required impressions need to be delivered or the opportunity—and the budget is lost. The broader umbrella of demographic targeting optimizes for reach but it doesn’t optimize for quality.

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Just as a tier 1 advertiser doesn’t want his ad to appear on a late night rerun, the same advertiser should not want his app on tier 2 mobile apps.

But this has been a difficult problem to solve for—50% of publishers account for 50% of revenue, so there are a lot of ads chasing a relatively small number of publishers. To understand what happens in an ecosystem with millions of apps, we have to pierce information within the walled garden of an app store.

Think about it. Today a consumer can only see what is in the app description of an app. That may not be a problem (more on the may later) for apps we know, but it can easily be a problem for lesser-known apps. 

So it may seem obvious that advertisers would want to control where their ad is going. Yes, there are measures for effectiveness, but a click is only effective if it is done by someone who is the desired target, which is more likely to happen through a good app than a bad one. And when that click doesn’t happen, having an ad for a quality product in a low quality app is as undesirable (and unimaginable) as Range Rover advertising on a dilapidated, although oft-seen billboard.

What’s needed is a behavioral index for mobile apps. Behavior encompasses two main elements—what the app does and how well it does those things. And the third element is a check and balance—the sentiment, or what people are saying about the app. Having this data built across every app in the mobile ecosystem will provide tremendous value to brands by allowing advertisers to granularly examine each app to see whether it meets the characteristics complementary to the brand. This one-by-one analysis can then be overlaid with geographic and demographic targeting.

The first phase is to roll out blacklists of apps to be avoided based on key factors, including a baseline and a filterable set of objectives like maturity ratings.  Phase two involves releasing dynamic whitelists, which will enable advertisers to reach a broad range of great apps. Finally, this analysis will check all apps in real time.

Having an appindex that catalogues the good, the bad and the factual aspects of apps will allow advertisers to move beyond flying blind—and will mark a sea of change for ad tech.

2 comments about "Ad Networks Are Flying Blind".
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  1. Mike Greco from Indy App Systems, November 17, 2014 at 5:58 p.m.

    I think much of the problem you speak to involves mobile ad optimization. And I agree that these capabilities are lacking most places (Airpush is a huge exception and is outstanding for advertisers as well as developers) and the efforts by Yahoo and Facebook to better ensure appropriate targeting and optimization are also impressive. So while you're spot on, I don't think we can really generalize that complaint across all ad networks or even social networks. The bottom line is that this problem you're talking about is definitely becoming less of a problem.

  2. Martin Clancy from Afilias Technologies Ltd, November 18, 2014 at 6:11 a.m.

    Interesting corollary: In the web world, a similar case applies with serving ads to a range of different devices that advertisers are are trying to target their messages to today, which where device awareness (as opposed to app awareness) comes into play.
    Disclosure : I am involved with the DeviceAtlas project which provides device data to the advertising sector.


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