Brand Advertising

In-app ads are ready for primetime. It’s time for brands to get on board.  

Aimee Kessler Evans
May 22, 2024
In-app ads are an opportunity for brands to own the screen

TLDR: In-app ads offer everything brands could ever want: Targeting, scale, high-impact formats, and full attention. Here’s why brands need to start paying attention right now. 

Everyone’s on mobile apps

When Apple trademarked the phrase “there’s an app for that” in 2009, it was novel, aspirational, and eventually overused. Now, with millions of available apps, it’s close to the truth—and it explains why the average American has 80 apps on their smartphone. They may not use all of them every day, but they do use nine or 10 of them daily for everything from checking the weather to planning their day, monitoring traffic, banking, messaging, getting news updates, and, of course, playing games.

Smartphone owners spend 85% of their screen time in apps, which ultimately adds up to a quarter of their daily downtime. Worldwide, that chunk of time is growing every year. 

Line graph showing cumulative number of hours spent using apps worldwide, in billions, from 2020 to 2023. The y-axis shows the number of hours in billions and the x-axis shows the years. The line increases steadily from 8 billion hours in 2020 to 15 billion hours in 2023.

With all of this data, one has to wonder: Why aren’t more brands advertising in mobile apps?

The case for in-app advertising

Now that you know your audience spends a ton of time in apps, from planning their commute to planning their vacation and unwinding in between, let’s discuss the other advantages of advertising in-app. At a high level, these include:

  • Ad formats are engaging and often full-screen. Sure, in-app banners are available, but so are full-screen video, playables, and interstitial ads. 
  • Brand safety is inherent. Outside of social media, most apps only display one ad at a time, so you don’t have to worry about low-quality inventory or adjacencies to negative user-generated content.
  • Audiences are engaged. Mobile apps are efficient, and they capture the attention of purpose-driven users. Whether they’re checking the weather or figuring out how much more protein they need today, their focus is on the app. 
  • Viewability is high. In-app ad viewability is about 78% for video and over 85% for display. That’s significantly higher than the mobile web’s 63% and online display’s 45% viewability. It’s also important to note that ad blockers are not an issue with in-app advertising. 
  • On top of everything else, targeting is better. Targeting is more precise with in-app ads, and with AI powering advertising for the leading platforms, it’s becoming automated and more accurate.  

With all these benefits working in their favor, you can see why clickthrough rates for in-app ads are twice as high as digital display advertising. 

Let’s dive a little deeper because these benefits can deliver huge dividends for brands. 

For starters, the ads themselves offer an almost unparalleled opportunity for brands to connect with audiences. In many apps, creative and video ads can use the entire screen as their canvas without competition for attention. More importantly, they can include a call-to-action that, unlike traditional TV, users can respond to without having to access another device. They can simply tap to shop, buy, enroll, or download — whatever the desired action is — without any barriers. 

Let’s talk about interactivity: Playable ads aren’t just for games anymore; in fact, the IAB has been talking about this concept for years. This year’s Creative Trends report shows an example of a Shein ad that outperformed with a playable format. Still, this strategy is growing in popularity across verticals — even McDonald’s and LEGO are on board. 

The attraction of the playable shouldn’t be hard to understand. Brands can create a unique, positive, one-to-one interaction with their customers by allowing app users to create their own outfits, design their own burgers, or test their knowledge of global geography. Create an experience they’ll enjoy and remember. The opportunities to “surprise and delight” are only limited by the advertiser’s imagination — and they’re sure to drive positive ROI. 

The case for in-app over (or in addition to) in-feed 

It’s not hard to see the advantages in-app advertising has over search and social. But let’s run through them anyway. 

Search advertising

When it comes to search, in-app advertising is really an “in addition” rather than a “replace with.” With a well-managed search campaign that balances long- and short-tail terms, users can be targeted all along their path to purchase. With smart copy and calls to action, brands can affordably drive action. 

However, search doesn’t really give you many creative options. With so much competition for top spots in search engine results, standing out from the crowd is incredibly challenging. It’s also worth noting that the cost per click for broader, short-tail terms can be astronomically high. And, on the topic of cost, achieving efficiency in search engine marketing can be a long, manual, and expensive process.

Social media

While an organic social media presence is critical for many brands, paid promotion on social platforms is less imperative. Competition, negative adjacencies, ever-changing algorithms, and the battle for attention make an investment in this medium questionable for many advertisers. 

Cosmetic brand Lush and luxury brand Bottega Veneta abandoned social media in 2021, citing concerns over the atmosphere and how the platforms were run. Later that year, Starbucks suspended its presence on Facebook due to hateful comments. For marketers in financial services, fear of social media was validated by a survey conducted by Integral Ad Science in Q3 2023. The results revealed that more than 50% of consumers would stop using a brand if its ads ran next to inappropriate content. That’s a risk that’s hard to mitigate on social platforms. 

With respect to the business case for social ads, viewability for Facebook and Instagram skews far lower than traditional display and significantly lower than in-app. According to Metric, only 11% of newsfeed video ad impressions were viewable. 

In-app advertising offers a positive change—or addition—to the media mix. Apps, by nature, are a lean-in medium that holds a larger share of attention than the “doom-scrolling” behaviour of social media users. Brands get to own that focus with engaging, full-screen, rich media formats that can be interactive. 

Mobile ads offer impressive targeting options, and AI innovations improve targeting to reach identified audiences and uncover new ones. And with respect to daily active users, mobile advertising offers reach and scale that rivals social. Beyond that, people use many more apps than just social media, so doesn’t it make sense for your brand to have a presence in more apps too? 

So, why not experiment with in-app advertising? Get started today with AppDiscovery. 

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