The Mobile App Trends Series is supported by Sourcebits, a leading product developer for mobile platforms. Sourcebits offers design and developmentservices for iOS, Android, Mobile and Web platforms. Follow Sourcebits onTwitter for recent news and updates.
A widely discussed article in Wired last summer posited the idea that the web is dead. The argument, which, on closer inspection appeared based on semantics, predicted that consumers would experience the web via peer-to-peer networks like Facebook and, increasingly, apps, in the future.
If that proves to be the case, a dead web may be good for advertising.
The reason? Aside from search, advertising on the web has been tricky. Consumers generally don’t click on banner ads — especially not on Facebook — and tend to view ads as an intrusion on their web-browsing experience. In contrast, a recent report by Appssavvy (admittedly not a disinterested observer) found that in-app ads perform 11.4 times better than standard banner ads, which means they are almost as effective as search.
That said, app publishers have been working on tweaking the “appvertising” model to make it more effective. Below is an overview of what seems to be working.
1. Become Part of the Game
Advertising in games is nothing new, but the the old model revolved mostly around product placement. But, as is the case with the TV and movie version of product placement, advertisers learned that having a Coke can in the background of a scene isn’t likely to sell many Cokes, but having a character drink it in a key moment — especially when the character is really thirsty and that Coke looks so good — is another story. When it comes to in-app games, the thirst-quenching Coke’s equivalent is having a brand pop up in a way that enhances the game experience.
For instance, last year, Microsoft ran a program with Appssavvy for Windows 7 in nqmoco’sGodFinger All-Stars. In that game, players control their own planet. The aim is to expand the planet and earn money, among other things, to get to the next level. So, Appssavvy, working with Universal McCann, brought a Windows Cloud into the game. Players could visit the Cloud the same way they’d visit their friends’ planets and earn in-game currency for doing so. If they wanted to, they could also click through a mobile landing page and learn more about Windows 7. “It leveraged activity [users] were already doing,” says Michael Burke, co-founder of Appssavvy. “They don’t mind the advertising.” Well, at least an impressively large minority didn’t — during the six-week promotion, 10% of the game’s players visited the Windows Cloud for a total of 6.1 million visits.
Another approach is to forget about blending into the game and instead ask players to sit through an ad in exchange for virtual game currency. That’s the premise behind SocialVibe. In a recent campaign, for instance, SocialVibe gave away currency for Zynga’s various games if users visited The Big Game Tournament, which pitted characters from FarmVille, YoVille, FrontierVilleand others in a football game sponsored by Kia. The effort had the highest time-spent-per-user of any SocialVibe game to date — 170 seconds.
Does bribing consumers to watch a commercial really work though? Clearly, some investors think so — SocialVibe just got a $20 million infusion of cash from Norwest Venture Partners last month. And a new company, Kiip, has a twist on this idea. Instead of virtual currency, they get real prizes. For example, if a player reaches a new height record in Doodle Jump, a Kiip notification will let the player know they’ve won a prize. Then a user can enter his email address to redeem the prize. Kiip has a roster of brand partners including Dr Pepper, Carl’s Jr., Popchips and GNC.
3. Make Better Ads
Not everyone thinks you have to twist consumers’ arms to get them to look at ads. Many believe that the rise of apps — especially among mobile users — will usher in a new era of more engaging advertising. Chief among the proponents of this belief is Apple’s Steve Jobs, who introduced Apple’s iAd platform in April 2010 as “mobile ads with emotion.” For Apple, though, the platform hasn’t been entirely successful. The company recently cut the entry price for an iAd in half to $500,000 and has reportedly had trouble selling the ads.
But Garrick Schmitt, managing director of experience and platform at Razorfish, says that rich media ads within apps perform much better than standard display ads — though he declines to get specific. Apple, he says, is just reacting to competition. Ads that Razorfish creates on behalf of clients like Best Buy and Westin Hotels are meant to offer more utility — you might say they’re more app-like — than the typical banner ad.
A rich media ad for Westin for instance, invites users to “tap here to warm up.” After that, virtual frost covers the iPhone screen and can be wiped away to reveal pictures of eight Westin Hotels & Resorts in warm climates. (See image above.) A Best Buy ad during the holidays made a game of buying gifts for family members. In another example, Razorfish created an iPhone-based ad for Dockers in 2009 that featured a man who would dance when the phone was shook. “Some ads are very game-like,” says Schmitt. “It’s a playful experience.”
Time to Learn
As these examples show, there are a few different schools of thought as to what app-vertising should look like. But the industry has some time to figure things out — right now it isn’t a completely mass medium. Noah Elkin, principal analyst with eMarketer, says that if you’re releasing a mobile app designed to be used on a smartphone, you’re effectively writing off 70% of the market. Though some predict that the user base for smartphones will hit 50% of consumers by the end of this year, Elkin says that figure is too optimistic. It’s also worth noting that early adopters to smartphones may be more engageable than those who buy them a year or so from now.
On the other hand, the mindset of someone who downloads an app may turn out to be more hospitable to advertising than old forms of media –- including the web. “App users are a self-selecting group,” says Elkin. “They tend to be more engaged.”
Series Supported by Sourcebits
The Mobile App Trends Series is supported by Sourcebits, a leading developer of applications and games for all major mobile platforms. Sourcebits has engineered over 200 apps to date, with plenty more to come. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iPhone, Androidand more. Please feel free to get in touch with us to find out how we can help your app stand apart in a crowded marketplace. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter and Facebook for recent news and updates.