In Mobile, Scale is in the Eye of the Beholder

The concept of scale is completely subjective, especially when it comes to mobile advertising. Inventory is available in many places and with the mobile ad networks continuing to grow in size, individual apps are continuing to push for direct sale of ad inventory for higher rates. So while every publisher will quickly proclaim it has scale, that’s not always the case.
“Scale is a lot of things,” said Chad Stoller, evp of digital strategy at BBDO North America. “People like to talk about a number of installs, but you have to look at who comes back to use it.”
Still, numbers are important, yet publishers focus the most on downloads. These figures are deceiving, as media buyers are finding out. The mobile world is rife with low-cost ways to build installs through cost-per-install networks that offer an app in exchange for virtual currency. Downloads don’t mean anything unless the user interacts with them. Unless an app is The Weather Channel with its 25 million users, chances are the app won’t have the scale needed to satisfy anything but a niche ad campaign.
“I don’t think the number of users is the end all be all, it’s a combination,” said Rachel Pasqua, director of mobile at iCrossing digital agency. “You can have an app that’s been downloaded 20 million times and is used once.”
Both Stoller and Pasqua wouldn’t put a specific number on what they considered scale, in any form, because each campaign has different needs. Still, the fact remains that ad impressions are plentiful. A developer with a generic consumer audience better come to the table with a lot more than 50,000 downloads.
“The clients that are interested in doing mobile display, a lot of them are moving out of the test-and-learn phase but are still interested in spreading out their buy,” said Pasqua. “I would need to have a very specific client with a very specific need and campaign.”
As targeting increases and the demand to reach more specific audiences in mobile becomes the focus over just reaching a general mobile audience, advertisers will still need to push agencies and media buyers to consider direct sales over networks.
“It’s too time consuming to negotiate with individual app owners and site owners.” said Pasqua. “Its not that I wouldn’t like to do it, it’s just a time suck. Working with networks enables me to do things much more efficiently. Think about the number of meetings you have to solidify a media plan, to get creative signed off on, tags in place, then repeat it five times. Reviewing the same set of comps with 5 different sets of people is going to still take 5 hours.”
Stoller echos Pasqua’s sentiment. “You have to make a decision,” he said. “Is this particular buy and the audiences associated with it worth the time and effort? For every app out there today talking about their user base, 20 years ago there was a small magazine start up doing the same thing.”

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