Broadly speaking, the highlights of 2015 for the mobile advertising industry were the continuation of two big trends that started in 2014 (the growth of the video ad format and industry consolidation) and the beginning of the Balkanization of the mobile advertising platform landscape via measurement lock-in. Some other interesting things happened with discovery (Google attempted to shift app discovery into mobile web search and some innovative social media influencer campaigns revealed the potential of that approach), but the general headline events from the year cluster around a theme of technology being used to draw boundaries around specific portions of the mobile advertising ecosystem.
This seems likely to continue in 2016 as video creates the need for multi-device attribution and advertisers push back against onerous terms, media buying continues to shift into the programmatic realm, and advertisers look to tool developers to provide end-to-end campaign management solutions as the level of complexity in managing and optimizing mobile marketing campaigns increases.
Video and multi-device attribution
The most compelling aspect of mobile video advertising is its ability to create an immersive, instructive, and engaging advertising experience. It’s also attractive because it can form a portion of a uniform omnichannel advertising campaign (eg. TV, desktop, and mobile video) and maintain that campaign’s consistency in tone and message (since the creative assets can mostly be utilized across many different ad placements). This is powerful in creating recognition: large developers can run saturation campaigns in key markets with both television and mobile / desktop video ads using more or less the same creatives, as Machine Zone recently showcased with its Arnold Schwarzenegger commercials for Mobile Strike.
The dual-screen approach surfaces an attribution problem, though: if a developer is running video ads on mobile (eg. in-app reward video), on desktop (eg. Facebook), and on television, how can they measure the performance of the individual media buys?
Some interesting start-ups are attempting to solve the television attribution problem, but the larger issue for campaigns on desktop and mobile is that view-through attribution punishes developers that want to run large campaigns in multiple video ad placements (eg. Facebook premium video, Facebook audience network, Twitter, and other mobile video ad networks).
Advertisers will either have to push for a developer-friendly measurement standard (eg. last view attribution, or some sort of scheme in which multiple partners “share” an install bounty) or face the reality of platform dependence. Of course, any technological solution to the problem (via an attribution standard) would almost certainly require the use of a data partner that was capable of tracking impressions across multiple channels, which would require participation / cooperation from the large platforms in making their inventory available programmatically.
This probably isn’t in the interest of any platform that is able to become so big that they can refuse to open up their inventory to third parties, begging the question: will advertisers be able to make demands before the various video publishing platforms become too large to have to heed them?
Shift to programmatic
These dynamics set the stage for a migration of mobile marketing activities into a programmatic environment, both because the measurement and reporting requirements for achieving optimized campaign spend necessitate it and because the universe of ad formats and channels on mobile is expanding beyond what can be managed capably without a rich programmatic toolbox.
A programmatic environment also creates the ability to transparently delineate the impression purchasing process, which is an obvious boon to advertisers who mostly have no choice but to pay the “opacity tax” to agencies that rebroker traffic and skim margin from transactions.
The rise of full-stack marketing tools and services
Of course, a shift to programmatic requires the use of a set of tools to buy and sell impressions programmatically. The “mobile growth stack” has already grown into a nearly unwieldy collection of disparate products; it seems natural that developers will move to abstract themselves away from directly operating and interfacing with esoteric technologies (such as attribution) and simply pay a fee to use a full-service tool stack that accommodates mobile ad buying for them.
Two other issues reinforce this thesis. The first is the rise of fraud on mobile, which most app developers are simply unequipped in terms of in-house technology and expertise to protect themselves against. And the second is that, as a direct result of the rise of video and increased popularity of omnichannel advertising for mobile apps, mobile media buying is becoming a commodity activity that only represents a portion of what an app developer’s marketing team might focus on (in addition to other disciplines like product positioning and creative storytelling). Given this, it makes sense that a developer would want to automate as much of this as possible and let an end-to-end tool do the heavy lifting.
Companies like Singular, Omniata, and Tenjin are building products in this vein, and as they mature and extend their functionality ever further into not only in-app events and analytics but also upstream into media buying logistics, it stands to reason that app developers would shift their internal attention away from the minutiae of performance mobile marketing and into more conceptual, product-focused pursuits.