Since the beginning of the smartphone boom publishers and advertisers have been crying out for more sophisticated mobile ad formats. The almighty mobile banner ad has long been the bane of the industry, generating unreliable clicks and marring apps with detached, and ugly, designs. Facebook and Twitter showed the way a few years ago, with promoted tweets and app install ads, and now it looks like the dam has finally busted for the rest of the industry.
Six months into 2014 and we’ve already seen a range of ad companies, social networks and media giants announce new mobile native ad products, from AOL to Yahoo, and from Twitter to Pinterest. Native has rapidly gone from being a buzzword to a new industry standard, and while not everyone agrees on the exact nature of ‘native,’ it’s good to see all the talk finally giving way to lots of action.
With all these announcements it’s understandable that some people will have trouble keeping up. So we’ve decided it’s time take a step back and assess the key mobile native ad solutions that have been announced over the last six months and break down what they offer to publishers and advertisers. When we refer to “mobile native ads” we’re talking specifically about mobile ad formats that are designed to blend into, and mimic the look and feel, of the publisher’s app or mobile site.
Guide To Mobile Native Ads
Twitter has been offering promoted tweets for some time now, which are arguably native ads, but this year it made public the fruits of its tie-up with ad network MoPub, by launching its mobile native ad exchange. The exchange takes MoPub’s exchange, which reached over one billion mobile users, and skews it from a traditional/banner focused network to one more aligned with native. The move is somewhat of an affirmation of the RTB model in the face of fears that the scale of programmatic buying would be incompatible with the tailored nature of native formats.
MoPub/Twitter’s native ad SDK lets developers create a customised native ad unit inside their app. The exchange then lets demand partners bid on the native ad inventory. MoPub says publishers have all the control and features present in MoPub’s ad serving platform, including powerful targeting options, frequency capping, creative management and more.
When it comes to Twitter’s efficiency for app marketers, more important is the value of traffic. Indeed, many questions remain over the effectiveness of Twitter’s new products and the ability of the company to deliver valuable users is an open question according to some. The MoPub exchange perhaps holds more potential for advertisers, but Twitter’s announcement was somewhat overshadowed a few weeks later by the reveal of the Facebook Audience Network, which pretty much does the same thing.
Twitter app install ads
Along with MoPub’s new exchange, Twitter also announced its own mobile native app install ad for its social network. It’s a clear attempt to muscle-in on Facebook’s lucrative app promotion business. As you can see above, the ad looks nice, clean and integrated into the experience.
MoPub native ads
Above is an example of Twitter’s solution working with the Flipboard app. It looks slick – with the ad transition animation appearing to follow the Flipboard app – but when it comes to the ad itself, well, you could say it simply looks like a slick banner and interstitial.
InMobi rolled out its native ad platform a while ago but only took it out of beta earlier this month. We previously spoke to co-founder Abhay Singhal who said his solution would be a “complete game changer” for the mobile ad industry. InMobi says the core of its platform is the ability for developers of all sizes to create highly customised mobile native ads and it’s goal is to give devs on a smaller budget the ability to create ads that don’t “negatively impact the user experience.” InMobi’s solution certainly looks on track to address the issue of scale when it comes to native.
InMobi offers two ad types: Native Interstitials and Native Content Ads.
InMobi’s Native Interstitials are basically interstitial ads that can be customised with different frames that sit around the advertisement. InMobi offers a selection of pre-made frames for developers to use and lets you create your own frames. Of course, whether the pre-made frames can really adapt well to a wide variety of app styles is an open question.
Native Content Ads
InMobi’s Content Ads are content feed ad units, which look very clean and flexible. InMobi lets developers choose from a number of templates, including content walls, news feeds, chat lists for social apps and in-stream.
Appsfire previously ran a popular app discovery platform but the end of last year announced its plans to focus entirely on developing new native ad formats. The start-up has been busy over the last few months, rolling out three new units in total and peppering them with some very innovative design touches.
The Ura Maki format looks something like a slick re-imagined interstitial and makes innovative use of iOS gestures, and UI features, that everyone is familiar with. Users can either stop the ad before it displays, or swipe up to dismiss after it displays.
Appsfire’s second ‘Sashimi’ unit is basically an in-stream ad and can be deployed across any app that features a content feed. The ad is auto-generated and can be tweaked with a set of customisable templates.
The Udon Noodle unit is a little bit more unique compared to the first two and makes use of the blank space in content feeds when users pull down to refresh. While not everyone may like the idea of ad messages in every nook and cranny of their app, Udon is a great example of thinking outside the box and shows there’s still plenty of room for innovation when it comes to mobile ads.
NativeX has been a real pioneer in the native ad space, setting-up the first and only native ad exchange aimed exclusively at mobile games. The Minnesota-based company, which was formally known as W3i, has created a whole range of rich native formats, which have been designed to appeal to gamers and meet the needs of game advertisers. This is complemented by its NativeX Platform, which uses a predictive analytics engine to optimise ad placement and deliver higher returns. Here’s a look at NativeX’s ad units.
As we’ve seen with other examples, NativeX updates the traditional interstitial format by letting publishers customise the ad’s boarders with designs that reflect their app.
NativeX’s banners can be customised to match a game’s art style and UI. The banner expands to a full screen ad when clicked. This expanded ad can feature a video.
Native Rich Media
With its focus on games, NativeX has been wise to focus on rich media ads. Publishers can create animations, character interactions, and complete mini-games, which match the aesthetic of their app.
Facebook has been among the most successful pioneers of mobile native ads, with its in-stream app install units, which have boosted the fortunes of many apps. A few weeks ago the company launched its Facebook Audience Network, which brings the company’s expertise in native mobile ads to third party publishers.
As we’ve been told many times, bigger app advertisers – games devs in particular – have been desperate for more Facebook inventory. The main driver of demand has been the quality of the social network’s users, which are delivered at a premium price. Whether FAN can deliver the same quality traffic remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Facebook’s ad targeting capabilities plays a big role here and the social network is hoping to replicate this with FAN
The other clear appeal of FAN is that publishers get to piggy back off Facebook’s successful app install ad business and incorporate native ads into their apps relatively simply, working within Facebook’s proven framework.
Facebook native units
Facebook lets developers customise native ads to best fit their apps. The social network has issued a range of guidelines for native units, and shown off a few examples such as the one above. The in-stream format looks similar to Facebook’s own native ads, but there’s more emphasis on the image and it doesn’t look like Facebook is adding other elements, such as the star ratings and info on the number of people using the advertised app.
Earlier in the month MobFox announced the first native ad platform dedicated to mobile sites. The Vienna-based network says it’s also the first to offer both a Demand Side Platform and a Supply Side Platform for native. MobFox CEO Julian Zehetmayr told us that despite all the big players jumping into native ads, independents like MobFox will always be in-demand to help publishers distribute traffic across different demand sources. Nearly all the announcements this year have focused on in-app advertisements, so it’s refreshing to see someone bring the mobile web back into the equation.
Mobfox Mobile Web Native Ads
Ad network LeadBolt has been pioneering native ads for some time now and has a range of units for advertisers to choose from. A couple of months back, LeadBolt’s CEO Dale Carr told us that his company will continue to experiment with native ads, saying the format represents a huge opportunity for developers and is a natural evolution of mobile advertising.
LeadBolt’s formats fall into three main categories; Interstitial Frames, Floating Ads, and Buttons.
As the name suggests Interstitial Frames are simply customised frames for interstitial ads that mimic the look and feel of an app. LeadBolt tells us these are the most popular native ad types on its network.
Floating Ads are bit more unique and consist of icons that float across the screen. Users then tap the floating ads to reveal the advertising message. LeadBolt allows publishers to customise the icons to fit better with their app, so you could have a sci-fi app that uses UFOs to carry the ad message, or a travel app that uses airplanes. The blend of interactivity and native is a really innovative way to drive engagment and a good option for game publishers.
More Games Button
At the more basic end of the scale are Leadbolt’s ‘More Games’ buttons. These are ads that are integrated into a game’s menu system, when the player clicks on the button they are taken through to an app wall advertisement. Simple but effective – although perhaps not clearly enough labelled as an ad.
Yahoo announced its native ad product earlier this month and offers three distinct units. Yahoo says its decision to run with its own native ad formats is due to mobile accounting for half of its global monthly active users. The company is also suffering from declining ad revenue, which was down 11% in Q1 2013, so it’s no wonder Yahoo is eyeing-up Facebook’s lucrative approach to install ads, with its own in-stream units.
Interestingly, Yahoo’s native ad announcement also kicked off a debate over how to properly label native units. Start-up Appsfire took a swipe at the company, saying Yahoo’s adwere not properly demarcating the boundaries between ad and non-ad content. Here’s what Yahoo has revealed so far.
As with AOL, Yahoo has followed the in-stream native ad format, with units that blend into users’ Yahoo News feeds. The ads are very much integrated into the news feed, with a circled S symbol marking it out as an ad.
The company also revealed a slightly more unique native ad unit that is very image-focused and pops up in paragraph breaks within the articles themselves. The image and the text certainly do a good job of appearing integrated with the content, and basically looks like part of the article.
Finally Yahoo is also putting native ads within its mobile photo albums. It’s a smart move and looks very slick. But again, is there enough to mark this out as an ad?
AOL launched its new mobile native ad product, aimed at app marketers, just last month. The new format consists of a sponsored in-stream ad unit and to our knowledge AOL hasn’t announced anything else. AOL says the benefit of its solution is that app advertisers don’t have to customise their ads for different publishers, they can just supply one image, some text, and can run the ad across all of AOL’s mobile properties, including Huffington Post, engadget, AOL Mail and DailyFinance. AOL says it’s also testing the ad units with third party publishers.
It will be interesting to see how a media company like AOL will expand its mobile native ad offering beyond app install ads. The company says it’s got big brands signed-up but hasn’t revealed what brand campaigns will look like – and there’s much discussion over the value of native ads beyond app installs.
AOL’s app install ad
The above unit is an example of an app install ad on the Huffington Post mobile site. There’s not much emphasis on the image and the ad certainly looks less flashy than some of the other in-stream units out there. But perhaps that’s largely down to the UI of the app itself.
Namo Media was set-up over a year ago by ex-Google employee Gabor Cselle. Earlier this year the company made a few important tweaks to its native ad product, which is entirely focused on content stream ads.
The first change was to allow publishers to adjust the placement of ads in their content streams via a simple web-interface, rather than having to hard-code the placement and submit a new version of the app. Most recently, Namo followed Facebook’s lead and brought ad carousels to its native ads, letting users swipe through multiple ads in a single placement.
Namo Media in-stream app instal ad
Namo gives developers a number of templates to tweak and customise. As you can see above their native app install ad follows the Facebook model and looks nice and clean. But as with some other in-stream ads we’ve seen, perhaps it doesn’t disclose it’s nature to users as clearly as it should.
At the beginning of the year OpenX Technologies unveiled its mobile native ad exchange, during the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona. OpenX says its new RTB platform offers partners “a seamless multiscreen experience at scale, which is what they need.”
OpenX’s in-stream ads
The native ad formats include content stream ads and rich media ads that “don’t jar the user experience” and are “part of the content flow.” Of course, the big question hovering over RTB native ad platforms such as MoPub, Nativo and OpenX’s, is just how integrated native ads can get on such large scales, and the impact this trend may have on apps themselves, especially when you delve beyond in-stream units.
So native ads are finally taking off in a big way. It’s certainly great news, as everyone – from advertisers to users – agree that previously ad formats (and banners in particular) just don’t cut the mustard. If mobile is going to attract big brand campaigns, and if app marketers want more valuable users, then the ads themselves will have to deliver a better experience than they have been doing up until now. Big questions to look out for include the degree of compatibility between RTB and native formats, native beyond app install, and the friction between providing integrated ads and clearly labelled ads. We’ll be updating this post with more announcements as they happen, so check back soon and remember to follow @mobyaffiliates on Twitter for the latest news.