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The ‘In-App Gap’: where premium eyeballs go to waste

By James Patterson, VP Client Services EMEA & Global Operations


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March 2, 2020 | 8 min read

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Pssst. Just between us, in-app advertising is one of the advertising industry’s best-kept secrets.

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The ‘In-App Gap’: where premium eyeballs go to waste

Why? Well, as it stands, advertisers are inadvertently neglecting in-app in their planning. Despite the fact that consumer time spent on mobile exceeds that spent watching TV - with in-app making up 90% of time spent on mobile - in-app receives only a quarter of media spend. And when in-app does make the cut, a large proportion of spend goes only to the apps owned by the biggest players behind the walled gardens - despite just 35% of customer time being spent there.

There’s clearly mistrust, or at least a lack of understanding, of the opportunities present in the channel. But these baseless assumptions mean brands are missing out on powerful engagement opportunities with premium audiences in the places where they’re actually spending most of their time - be it news apps, games, weather platforms, or many others.

In-app is far from a lawless, unpopulated no man's land of advertising. In fact, the latest stats show it’s actually where audiences are spending most of their time. In the UK for example, just over two and a half hours a day are spent in the in-app environment, compared with only 20 minutes on the mobile web. That’s a staggering 90% of the time on mobile spent in apps - whether messaging, social media, music, or gaming. It’s a huge opportunity.

It’s high time to bust the myths, get to the truth around in-app, and help brands supercharge their mobile campaigns.

Myth one: In-app is a ‘wild west’ inventory source

Our first myth, and it’s an outdated perception, especially since the launch of App-ads.txt. This initiative, launched by the IAB Tech Lab, enables publishers and apps to list authorised digital sellers, boosting transparency by means of a public record, and preventing bad actors from selling counterfeit inventory.

It’s something we’ve fully taken advantage of at The Trade Desk, where we block all open-market in-app inventory not authorised by app-ads.txt and have also introduced adopting the tech as a partner requirement for anyone we work with.

If that weren’t enough, we also check all inventory with WhiteOps before responding to any bid request - and we’ve modelled our business to catch anomalies not yet registered elsewhere, sharing them with the industry to keep us all on the straight and narrow.

Myth two: In-app inventory neither indexes well for key demographics nor does it allow you to find your desired audience

On to number two. There’s a long-standing belief that in-app audiences are made up of teenage boy gamers – and that that makes them irrelevant for many advertisers.

The reality is entirely different. In-app audiences are in fact relevant for all advertisers, with audiences of all kinds are available through a variety of apps - from news and entertainment apps, to Gumtree, Spotify, and much more.

Not only are audiences diverse in terms of age, but there is also a roughly even gender balance across verticals too - even in gaming. In fact, while seen as the preserve of teenage boys, 78% of all smartphone users access gaming apps daily. Why? Mobile gaming needs no dedicated hardware and allows for briefer gaming sessions, broadening the appeal among the mass market

By overlooking mobile gaming, advertisers are ignoring a hugely diverse and promising target audience - especially as gamer audiences are significantly more engaged than elsewhere. That matters: with brand spend moving away from many social media and user-generated content platforms for brand-safety reasons, advertisers are looking to invest elsewhere, and any environment where users might interact frequently with brands is a valuable one.

As for finding exactly the right audience - in-app has got you covered here, too. In-app advertising now offers the most accurate and precise audience targeting out there thanks to Device ID technology. These are long-term IDs tied to individuals using GDPR-compliant, anonymised identification mechanisms. And as they’re accessible across every application, they offer consistent and accurate measurement across the in-app environment. You can’t say fairer than that.

Myth three: In-app is not measurable or viewable, and has low completion rates

Wrong again. While this was perhaps relevant historically, April 2018 saw the long-awaited launch of the IAB’s Open Measurement SDK (software development kit - a handy bundle of software tools in one neat package). The single, catch-all SDK eliminated the need to implement multiple separate SDKs for third-party viewability and verification vendors. From now on, only a single SDK is required – and this opportunity to ensure integrated measurement has been seized upon by players across the industry - not least The Trade Desk. Over 2 billion devices worldwide are now reachable by the Open Measurement SDK, including 30% of The Trade Desk’s in-app traffic.

As for other metrics, all the rate and cost-based metrics marketers use regularly in display environments can now be found in-app, too - whether that’s viewability, video completion rate, CPC, CPA or on-target percentage.

If you’re still worried about completion rates - our own data shows viewability in the in-app display is 10% higher than browser-based display, with in-app video having a significantly higher completion rate. In-app video is also cheaper than browser-based video.

Myth four: In-app formats are poor quality

In-app advertising has a perception of being hard to see, poorly placed, and barely useful. Rewarded video formats have had perhaps the worst rap of all, conjuring up thoughts of incentivised clicks and questionable use.

In truth however, today’s in-app inventory offers a variety of flexible display and video formats. The latter is particularly valuable given that mobile sees the highest rate of video consumption of any channel, making in-app a potential sweet-spot for innovative video formats.

What’s more, despite a bad reputation, rewarded video now works exceptionally well, and is actively enjoyed by a significant majority of consumers. 87% of publishes rank rewarded video as the best for user experience, with users preferring rewarded video 2.5 times more than any other format.

With these formats app-specific and not found anywhere else, it’s an untapped opportunity to boost performance and user experience.

Down with in-app claptrap

Having debunked the myths, what we’re now left with is four very good reasons to invest in in-app. Let’s recap: in-app is a huge missed opportunity, offering accurate audience targeting and accurate viewability measurement (and is an effective brand advertising medium). It’s brand-safe and fraud-free. And finally, in-app ad formats are effective and user-friendly.

Whichever of these reasons you find most convincing, it’s worth working with a trusted partner to make sure you get the very most out of your in-app campaigns. Whether it’s forecasting, identifying, planning, or adapting strategy on the fly, The Trade Desk has a suite of tools to help you get the most out of this invaluable platform. Find out more – and close the in-app gap for good.

James Patterson is vice president of client services EMEA and global operations at The Trade Desk. They are also a sponsor of The Drum Digital Advertising Awards 2020, which are still open to entry by applying for an extension.

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