In-App Advertising in Exploding:
In-App advertising is currently the biggest revenue earner in mobile advertising. This report from eMarketer suggests that in-app ad spend in US alone would be nearing $30 billion - amounting for 73% of the total mobile ad spend in US. This is not surprising as mobile is gaining prominence across the world and becoming the primary access point for internet and gaming.
Contextual matching of ads using keywords or user-intent isn't yet much advanced for in-app advertisement. Cookies on mobile devices is still a challenge and search engines can't crawl app pages like websites, as they are often generated dynamically in run-time. But advertisers get to refine their ad-campaign targeting via parameters like device types, location, app category and even exact apps. As technology advances, we are sure to see some break-through in this domain soon.
In this blog post, I want to put forth the idea of allowing users to minimize interstitial ads in in-app advertising instead of closing them.
What are Interstitial Ads in In-App Advertising?
One of the key ad format for in-app advertising is the interstitial ad. These are full-screen ads, which pop-up at "natural breaks or transition points" in the app's user-experience (as Google defines them on its AdMob platform). Most common examples of such breaks or transition points are when user completes a level of a game in a gaming app, or when user requests for or completes reading a content piece in a content app. See an example below:
The Problem of Ephemeral Existence of Interstitial Ad:
As a user who is immersed in playing a game or reading content, the most intuitive reaction would be to close the ad and get back to the game or content. Once closed, this ad is gone. Since it is being served programmatically by ad-networks, there is no certainty of the same ad being shown again to the user in that session or for that matter anytime in that app. Given the short attention spans that users have today, there is a high likelihood that user's mind - which would be preoccupied with the task of completing the task in the app - will push her to close the ad even before she has read/seen it completely. Often, these ads can have dynamically generated custom offers for users based on their previous interactions like in-app purchases, search queries, etc. There can be a coupon code for a discount, or a one-time low-fare being offered to the user. I have many times intuitively closed the ad and then thought that there was a good offer that I could have availed - but I can't go back to the ad now!
Advertisers are betting billions of dollars on these ads; a lot of effort is being spent on creating engaging and attractive visuals and compelling marketing offers in these ads. They do deserve much more life than being this ephemeral existence!
Allow Users to Minimize - Not Close - the Ad:
Instead of closing, allow users to minimize the interstitial ad. Once minimized, these ads can go to a bottom strip or panel (where currently mobile ad-networks show the banner ads). A small but attractive ad icon can be used for this ad in the bottom strip (this can be of sufficient size to clearly show ad-message and call-to-action). This panel can be made to remain visible for a specified time (say 5 seconds), after which it slowly fades and becomes transparent.
At every transition point in app user-experience which qualifies for showing interstitial ads, this strip becomes visible again, and keeps collecting all ads that user is so intuitively minimizing (instead of closing). Ad networks can allow app-owners (or publishers) to determine settings and triggers for which this strip can become appear and fade out. For example, if user is inactive for specific duration or if the app-menu is requested. Several such triggers identified on analyzing the user-behavior. Once visible, user can scroll through (horizontally) all the ad-icons to see ads that were shown to her in that session.
See below a simple wireframe illustration of this user interaction:
Benefits of Minimizing Ads in In-App Advertising:
For a user involved in the app-activity, there is no change in the user-experience as minimize function will remove the ad and take user back to the app activity. However now user has option to go back to these ads. There can be several triggers for which app can remind user about these ads without interfering or degrading the user-experience. This means higher chance of monetization for publishers or app-owners and increase in chances of ads being seen and clicked for advertisers or ad-networks. This feature will reward advertisers with attractive and engaging ad creatives and messages as when user will browse through all ads in the session, these attractive and engaging ads will possibly get higher attention and response.
Minimize feature can be extended to other ad formats also in mobile advertising sphere where the basic assumption that users would want to look at ads after they have completed their desired app/ mobile activity. Hence giving them an option to go back to ad would be of value.
Challenges for the Implementation of this Ad Format:
For this "minimize" feature to have desired effect, there are some challenges to overcome, as below:
- Capturing and storing ads and sequence in which they were shown in the session. In absence of cookie on mobile, ad networks will have to add this functionality at session level at their end
- Interactivity of bottom strip based on triggers can increase the weight and response time of ad-tag. But I am sure this would be easier problem to solve
- Compatibility across different device types, OS types and ad format types will have to be achieved