Meet the New Mobile Banner: Brand Rewards

Mobile developers don’t like banner ads. They tolerate them because they provide a quick and easy way to generate revenues from free applications, but most aren’t crazy about them.

There are promising signs within gaming environments of new ad models based on rewards for achievements. The question hanging over that space, however, is whether a rewards model based on game dynamics such as leveling up and completing tasks, could work for other types of publishers.

New classes of app publishers are using it, though. MapMyRun, Lolofit, and Gym-pact and Nexercise are all using a rewards platform powered by Kiip. Advertisers in those apps have included BestBuy, and PepsiCo’s Propel Zero vitamin-infused beverages. Propel Zero, for example, is dishing out coupons for powdered drinks to users that complete workouts in MapMyRun. They’re presented with a full-screen takeover ad after they click to end their run, which prompts them to enter an email address to redeem the offer, or send it to a friend.

“Banner ads are kind of annoying, definitely not aesthetically not pleasing, and everybody hates interstitials,” said Benjamin Young, CEO of fitness-based app firm Nexercise.

Kiip began life as a gaming-focused rewards platform, “rewarding” users with things like coupons and free product trials for reaching certain milestones within games. But it’s now moving beyond gaming, and attempting to replicate the model in apps in other areas.

“It’s proving much more lucrative for us, and we’re seeing really high user engagement,” Young said. “I think the whole app space is going to move away from traditional advertising to these more creative approaches.”

Chris Glode, director of product management for MapMyRun, said the rewards model is a better fit for it than banners — and less interruptive to the experience.

“We’re serving up ads for free water when people have finished their run and hydration is on their mind,” he said. Users actually appreciate it which is a far cry from user’s usual interactions with advertising, especially in mobile,” he said.

But as Young points out, despite its exercise focus Nexercise ultimately lies in the gaming category. In fact, the entire concept behind it is to apply game mechanics to working out in an attempt to encourage people to be more active.

It’s a similar case for MapMyRun. Sure it’s fitness themed, but it includes leaderboards, challenges, and targets. It taps into users’ senses of competition and achievement.

It’s unclear, therefore, if a similar approach will work with other types of content. How do you reward users of a news app, for example? Glode and Young implied the strength of the rewards approach so far has been its ability to tap into users’ sense of achievement, which isn’t often roused while they’re catching up on news.

But Kiip CEO Brian Wong insists rewards can exist outside of the gaming space specifically, as does Chris Cunningham, CEO of Appssavvy, which offers a similar activity-based ad product called Adtivity.

Cunningham figures that any in-app activity could, in theory, have some sort of advertiser content tied to it. For publishers he suggests behaviors such as commenting are a good place to start.

But as Kiip’s approach suggests, that might not be an easy transition to make, hence why it’s focusing on the gaming space, or at least on apps that include a gaming element. It’s not like The Weather Channel is going to be able to chuck its mobile banners for rewards anytime soon.

“How they can adapt that model, I don’t really know,” Glode concluded.

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