There’s No More Excuses to Not Buy In-App Ads

By Matt Gillis

You know that panicky feeling. You're just about to leave the house and you feel your pocket or look in your bag and realize – you don't have your phone.

Your mind races first, retracing your steps to where it might be. If it doesn't immediately come to you, the real retracing begins. I can't tell you how many times I've run around my house, looking in the usual suspect areas: the office, the kitchen counter, and yes, the bathroom. (We've all done it.)

"Nomophobia," or fear of being without a mobile device or beyond contact, is a real thing: more than half (53 percent) of mobile phone users are "anxious" when they cannot locate their phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage.

And, just when we thought we couldn't get even more attached to those little rectangles, the pandemic hit. While many people thought it might mean less time spent on them, as we aren't "on the go" or waiting in as many lines, it actually resulted in more.

Pre-pandemic, we'd already hit levels of nearly three hours a day, more by some studies. Now it's nearly five hours a day, a 30 percent increase even from just 2019, according to App Annie. More conservative measurements still put it above four hours.

And it's not just about time spent in bulk, it's the constant checking, glancing at our home screen, opening an app quickly just to see what's going on. Can you think of anything else that you do 96 times a day?

Smartphones are our lifeline, our connection to everything: to information, to other people, to what's going on in the world.

And now with so many people (still) working remotely, they are also now our source for many professional tools and connections, too. About a third turn to smartphones for work-related reasons often, and over half use their mobile device at some point during the workday. (I would wager that a good portion of those sessions are not technically work related!)

What's interesting about our obsessive need for smartphones is that while we use them to stay connected to the outside world, you could argue that they are actually a world unto themselves.

The vast majority of our phone time (90 percent ) is spent inside mobile apps, and the app ecosystem is like a galaxy of separate, smaller worlds that we visit, leave, and then revisit.

And while in the real world, advertising is everywhere – from highway billboards to airport posters to the direct mail print pieces that still overcrowd our poor mailboxes – our phones had remained relatively unsaturated, but that's no longer the case.

We've all had those moments with linear TV, for instance, where we start wondering if there is more commercial space than that reserved for content.

Connected TV isn't much better. Lack of standardization and increased fragmentation in the media market leads to repetition and overcrowding, hence why you see the same ad three times in a row on Hulu. And it's driving American consumers crazy, as 7 in 10 of those surveyed said ads on streaming services are too repetitive and 4 in 5 consumers are bothered by the number of ads and how often they're replayed.

In the mobile app ecosystem, this is far less likely to happen. First, the technology and the industry are simply more mature; we have far better centralization and standardization of advertising inventory and measurement, especially now that Apple (and eventually Google) have done away with third parties.

Buying audiences on mobile, despite what you might be reading or hearing, is still possible without IDFA. Even after Apple rolled out iOS 14.5 with its ad tracking limitations, the industry did not collapse. Advertisers simply did what they've been doing for decades – focused on contextual signals to home in on their ideal audience.

Like TV, apps are treated like individual channels, with the people who are visiting and engaging with those channels filling particular needs. It doesn't matter if it's a social media app or ESPN or a hyper-casual mobile game, you have so much information about the "who" just by understanding the "what."

This kind of contextual advertising, or buying where your audience is based on content and their behavior, is still far more effective than, say, location-based advertising, where the only thing you know about the customer is where they are.

In-app offers the opportunity to target based on their environment and intent, which are far more powerful signals than mere GPS coordinates. It's like being able to run a digital ad on a billboard outside of a football stadium where thousands of tailgaters are gathering before the game – versus serving it to the same location, but early that morning when the parking lot is completely empty.

Buying in-app has also never been easier. Just as you would for TV or any other contextual media, you can create custom, curated lists of apps that you want to buy on, based on your specific audience requirements.

Even as the pandemic has changed user behavior so that more people choose to shop, work, stream, game and connect from home, app downloads will continue to rise which means even more inventory for advertisers, and consumers will become even more glued to their smartphones.

Attention is the most valuable commodity for marketers today, and consumer attention is going to mobile apps of all kinds. Wouldn't you like some of that attention for your brand?

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Matt Gillis is president of Digital Turbine. Matt leads Digital Turbine's global sales, partnerships, marketing, and business operations. He spent the last 25 years at the intersection of content creation, distribution, and monetization.