Why the mobile ad market is so dependent on app installs for growth


This is the second article in a series, “The Mobile Publisher,” a look at how publishers are tackling challenges in the shift to mobile, from design to content to monetization.

Apps are dominating mobile advertising, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to boost their downloads, and there are few signs this flood of money — from venture capitalist to app to mobile ad — will slow any time soon.

Companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter are making a killing on app-install ads, which are the most ubiquitous type of ad on mobile. When one app — a game, delivery service or e-retailer — falters, another five go searching for users with ads on mobile devices.

“There isn’t a single brand in the world, consumer product, automotive or travel brand, that will spend as much money on mobile ads as apps,” said Mahi de Silva, CEO of Opera Mediaworks, which helps big brands advertise on top publishing sites and apps.

Opera’s internal numbers reflect the dominance of app-install ads: One third of its revenue comes from that portion of the business. The top mobile game maker will spend $100 million in ads through Opera Mediaworks in 2015, far outspending any brand marketer, de Silva said.

Not only is a large portion of the mobile ad market tied to mobile app installs, but that segment is heavily reliant on a handful of the biggest spenders.

Any frequent mobile user has likely seen install ads from DraftKings, FanDuel, Game of War, Clash of Clans, The Sims. De Silva said Opera’s app-install ads tend to come from the top 10 titles.

These high rollers lead the way for the thousands of other apps that are struggling to find their own share of voice.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and others are developing ever more sophisticated products for all developers, including video ads and deep linking ads, which target customers who haven’t visited a certain app in awhile.

“The app-install ecosystem is actually what’s responsible for growing that space for Facebook, Google and every other company,” said Chris Cunningham, global head of mobile and brand partnerships at IronSource, an apps data and analytics company. “What’s driving mobile budgets is not brands like Coca-Cola but gaming companies and lifestyle apps.”

It’s a wonder the growth continues, considering that any given smartphone user spends most of his phone time on about five apps. But even if the same apps don’t account for the same level of ad spending in 2016, there seems to be no shortage of new apps ready to take their place.

“Most apps fail — 90 percent of them fail — it’s a very difficult business to be in, most people use five or 10 apps,” said Warren Zenna, executive vp and managing director at Mobext, the mobile ad buying arm of Havas Media Group. “But there is a jackpot at the end of the app download tunnel, so they play.”

Facebook, Google and Twitter don’t typically disclose what portion of their revenue is from app-installs or other app-focused marketing. However, mobile ad spend is rising fast, and there is no doubt that the apps are fueling the growth.

Ad spend by mobile developers is skyrocketing, according to social technology platform Kenshoo. “The combination of new entrants to the space, and increasing budgets have driven overall spending up nearly four times what it was one year ago,” Kenshoo said in a recent report that looked at June of this year compared to last.

A look at the top spenders on Facebook shows that most of them are developers backed by venture capital, according to a new data firm called Sensor Tower.

Four of the top five advertisers in October were Supercell and ContextLogic, just two of the examples of apps funneling big investor money into app-install advertising.

“As long as the general market stays where it’s at, Facebook advertising will be fine,” said Dmitry Filimonov, chief engineer at Sensor Tower. “A lot of the top advertisers have received substantial VC funding that quickly becomes their advertising budget.”

The spending will continue so long as it keeps working, which it seems to be doing for the biggest players, Filimonov said.

“For others like ‘Game of War’ and ‘Clash of Clans,’ they are monetizing so well, making upward of $100 million in revenue a month on Google Play and the Apple App Store combined,” he said. “They can afford to pay.”

All this activity is certainly affecting the broader mobile ad market, and forcing brands to compete for valuable ad placement on mobile devices and within apps like Facebook.

The competition will increase in the fourth quarter, according to de Silva of Opera Mediaworks. Over the holidays, brands and mobile game companies will be looking to get in front of people with iTunes gift cards sitting in their pockets.

“More brands are spending more of their budget in the fourth quarter, so that drives up the price of inventory, and we know app-install customers have new titles coming into market,” de Silva said. “The apps are willing to pay more for an impression than the brand guys will.”

Yet there are always risks that the app-install ad market could dry up. Facebook knows it must diversify its ad base, and it is developing tools to get more big brands on board to lower its dependence on app marketers.

“A significant amount of Facebook advertiser budgets are spent on app installs,” said Zenna of Mobext. “They’re moving away from it because I think they know they don’t want to have all their eggs in one basket.”


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