Ad blocking has been top of mind for many mobile advertisers as of late, with the narrative largely focused on things like ad serving.
But that conversation interests me much less than what is missing from the dialogue, namely how advertisers will use the impetus of mobile ad blocking to make ads that are more interesting, better targeted and timelier, so that the reader finds more value in them.
This, I think, is the natural evolution of the mobile advertising medium and the domain of next level native advertising.
Looked at from the right perspective, ad blocking is a sign mobile is maturing. There is a huge audience of increasingly savvy mobile users to keep happy and engaged, and both the opportunity and responsibility to leverage that demand for brands that are concerned with making the right impression the first time and every time. Go-forward, the way to accomplish that is through next level native advertising: engaging content and experiences that provide real value to the mobile user at just the right moment.
Next level native is really about three things: more creative and mobile UX optimized formats, great timing, and engaging the user with things we know that they’ll find valuable based on our understanding of their mobile behaviours.
Formats are the easiest place to begin. To repeat what others have said many times, current mobile ad formats are, for the most part, not good enough. They’re neither creative nor interesting, they don’t blend-in, and they’re not optimized to a mobile user’s experience. Brands, advertisers and marketers simply need to find better ways to leverage screen real estate to deliver ads in a more engaging and less irritating way.
Timing has a lot to do with this. At Cheetah, we see data every day that tells us we have just a split second to meaningfully engage a consumer. That moment almost uniformly arrives when we have a strong emotional connection with the mobile user, usually when we’re doing a good job of blending in and complementing, rather than interrupting, their experience.
A good example of how not to blend in comes from a friend’s experience with a new meditation app she was trying out. Finding herself awake at 3 a.m., she pulled out her mobile, thinking a bit of meditation might help her to sleep. Unfortunately, on starting the meditation app, she was immediately presented with a large, garish advertisement for something she had no interest in. So, obviously not the right time or context to present an ad if your brand is trying to make a good impression, or create value for the user.
And if you’re not creating value for the user what exactly is the point of your ad?
This is why paying attention to mobile signals is crucial. To be clear, I am not referencing demographic or psychographic data, such as someone’s age, location or favourite tea, but behavioral data, which tells us specifically how a mobile user interacts with a given app, for example when they use it, or how often. It is precisely by these behaviour-based mobile signals that we can learn how to create the formats and establish the timings to deliver the greatest native value for users.
I strongly believe that the reason mobile VSP (Virtual Smartphone Platform) providers are not doing a very good job of monetizing mobile inventory is because of their concentration on demographic and psychographic data, and lack of mobile signals behavioural data. Basically they’re throwing ads against a wall and seeing what sticks, which is no way to scale, and scalability is of crucial importance in next level native.
Once the industry figures out the right way to do native, not just treat it like another gimmicky new ad format, true scalability becomes possible. But first we have to think about what that means for different people with different points of view, such as users, advertisers and app developers. Ultimately, next level native must serve all of these masters with equal aplomb, delivering utility, engagement and value to each party every step of the way.
How can that happen? Here’s a practical example.
App locks are pretty popular these days. App locks are a simple, non-techy way to put a lock screen on top of an app instead of putting a lock on your entire phone (it seems a lot of mobile users find unlocking their phone 80 or 100 times a day to be a bit of a pain). Typically, app locks gets used on apps where people are storing personal information, like an email app, a file storage app, or maybe their Facebook app.
That lock screen, which is full screen sized, turns out to be a great place to do something analogous to product placement, like slipping a Coke bottle onto the desk of one of the characters from Mad Men. So, there’s an opportunity to take that lock screen and place a video there, or a poll, or some other behavior-targeted content that the user will find value in.
The experience is native because it’s right there on the user’s app. It’s mobile optimized, of course. It’s useful because the user wants the security feature to begin with. It’s targeted because behavioural data from the user’s mobile signals can be used to determine and drive the ideal ad to appear on the lock screen. It also uses previously unused screen real estate in a new and creative way, and the solution can scale to hundreds of millions or even billions of apps.
You’ll note that app locks aren’t, at their core, an ad tech. But they do provide opportunity for a format that is very conducive to advertising and is not annoying for the user (it actually provides a useful service). So, the idea of using that lock screen real estate for product placement is, to me, very next level native.
Ad blocking isn’t the end of the road for mobile advertising, it’s just a fork that’s sending us in a better direction. Forcing brands, advertisers and solutions developers to be more creative about engaging mobile users with better experiences and more value is a good thing. These are the early days of next level native advertising. There’s lots more good stuff on the way.
Aurelie Guerrieri is vice-president of global marketing solutions at Cheetah Ad Platform