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Advertising Across Mobile Devices

This is the fourth in a series of posts walking readers through the mobile advertising space. Stay tuned for at least one more post in the coming weeks. This post is also published on the Rubicon Project blog.

Fragmented Advertising on Mobile

Fixing Mobile

When evaluating advertising options on mobile devices, it is important to consider the screen size as well as whether the content is viewed in mobile web or a native mobile application. Content that is viewed in a browser is often suboptimal for advertising. When presented with a standard un-optimized web page the phone’s browser will shrink the content to fit the width of the display. This has the unfortunate side effect of also shrinking ads, often until they’re very small. In this scenario, advertisers are not getting their money’s worth, as their ads are often too small to see.

Advertising Banners

To successfully advertise on web pages displayed on a mobile phone a site’s layout must be mobile optimized. This single column of content optimized for a phone’s screen lends itself to an advertising unit that spans the screen unobstructed. While hardly anyone would think that these small banner units that span the screen are the answer to mobile advertising needs, this is at least a place to start.

In an attempt to expand the advertising opportunities on mobile, the IAB is working with advertisers and publishers to create new, more engaging ad units for mobile. These units have names like “Push” and “Slider”. They are initially inconspicuous on the page, but can take over the entire screen to create a more immersive experience. Adhesion banners stay in the same place on the screen, remaining in view throughout the user’s session. Creative thinking like this has led to ad units that expand to the limits of the screen of the device. Rather than being little boxes on the screen, these ad units use the full dimensions of the device to be more immersive and engaging.

App Environment

Content viewed in mobile apps have distinct challenges from their web counterparts. These challenges are common to phones and tablets.  The most prominent challenge is the requirement of the SDK (or Software Development Kit). SDKs are sets of code that an application developer integrates into their app to allow mobile ads to run within their app.  Mobile inventory buyers, generally, develop SDKs.  Their code enables the application to call the buyer’s ad server to get ads and render them properly.  For each demand source that the application developer partners with, there is likely a new SDK integration.  The problem is that all these SDKs have a distinct set of instructions to perform a fairly common set of tasks. The proliferation of distinct SDKs has resulted in more fragmentation in the market.

There are still stories of app developers integrating up to seven different SDKs to manage the need for competitive demand for inventory.  Managing multiple SDKs can be problematic.  There is non-trivial operational and technical overhead of integrating additional code to the application. Demand partners have their own development roadmaps and update their SDKs on their schedule.  Each time an SDK is updated the application developer needs to re-integrate the code and re-submit the app for approval to iTunes or Google Play.

It’s not all gloom and doom in the app world though. The IAB has recently made efforts to normalize the SDK interactions to reduce the learning curve for integrating different SDKs.  It introduced the Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions, or MRAID.  MRAID is an effort to create a common set of standards.  Indeed, many mobile advertising companies now offer MRAID compliant creatives. As support for MRAID grows we all can be hopeful that these woes will subside.

Through the use of SDKs, mobile apps are able to make use of functionality that is native to mobile devices to deliver a more engaging advertising experience. Companies such as InMobi or Celtra offer a rich advertising experience to the user instead of the standard still-image ad (with click-through) that is very prominent in online display advertising.  The SDK opens the door for highly interactive and engaging ads, which have actually been well received by users.


Tablet inventory, whether accessed through an app or web, comes with some interesting opportunities.  First among them is the larger screen offering the potential for larger ad formats.  There are several tablet-specific formats gaining traction in the market.  Some are custom for a specific application.  Others, like the Filmstrip from IAB’s rising stars, are approaching a level of standardization that can be leveraged by application developers and the currently rare tablet-optimized web.

The impact of these challenges depends on the user experience that you design for your mobile users. You should decide what the appropriate experience is for your content type, and then deal with the relevant advertising issues that arise. Formatting and building content specifically for mobile is the first step toward monetizing content. Have you had issues integrating SDKs with your mobile apps?

Building Content for Mobile Devices

This is the third in a series of posts walking readers through the mobile advertising space. Stay tuned for more posts over the coming weeks. This post is also published on the Rubicon Project blog.

Fragmented Mobile Content

Fixing Mobile

As I covered in the first blog post, mobile presents a tremendous market opportunity for publishers. A large and growing share of traffic comes from mobile devices. According to comScore, 13.3% of pageviews came from mobile devices in August.

On a smartphone there are basically two ways to go online: web or apps. Let’s start with apps. In contrast to mobile web, apps have been built from the ground up for smartphones. Content has rendered into an experience that doesn’t require a mouse and/or keyboard.  Additionally, apps normally don’t feel like a pared down or diminished version of their online display counterpart. Think about your favorite app – it’s likely that you’re playing a game, checking weather, interacting on a social network or looking for directions. These experiences seem natural on a smartphone app.

Apps vs Browser

In contrast to apps, using a browser on a smartphone to access a site’s “desktop experience” creates a number of challenges. When presented with a standard web page the smartphone’s browser will shrink the content to fit the width of the display.  This has the unfortunate effect of making all of the content very small, forcing the user to pinch, zoom and swipe to see content.

In order to combat this effect, publishers create “mobile optimized” websites. These sites are built with the screen size limits in mind. They typically feature pared down versions of their online display (desktop) counterparts, and often put smaller versions of images in-line with text designed to take the full width of the smaller screen.

In contrast to a negative experience on a smartphone, a tablet has more in common with standard desktop experiences.  Most standard web sites render just fine on tablets and even the ads can be seen. Users can view content on tablets with very little zooming and swiping. However, while the content renders mostly correct, tablets do share a challenge with their smartphone counterparts – the unique nature of touch navigation.

There are many resources online to guide you through the step-by-step process of optimizing your content for mobile devices. To get started it is important to recognize that mobile devices are navigated by touch, which is quite different than the mouse-driven, point-and-click navigation of the desktop world. Rather than clicks, you will design for taps; instead of scrolls you will design for drags and swipes. These are subtle differences that change the way that a user interacts with content. Button size becomes important. Drop down menus are harder to use. Anything that requires a hover is pretty much useless in a touch world.


Another thing to consider is the file size of your site. Since much of the content accessed via mobile devices will be downloaded over cellular rather than high-speed access via Wi-Fi, it is important to trim the fat and reduce that file size as much as possible. A final consideration is the absence of Flash in the mobile web world. Flash content will not render on iOS devices. Given the ubiquity of iPhones and iPads, this is an important issue to address. There are alternatives to Flash, such as HTML5, that deliver similar capabilities and work across all devices.

At the end of the day, these devices share many characteristics but what works on a smartphone won’t necessarily work on a tablet; and vice-versa.  It’s important to examine these two device types independently to determine the best user experience for your content across these devices.  They need to be evaluated in terms of screen-size and form factor for strategies across content.  This goes from content to creative to analytics.  Have you built a mobile optimized site? What challenges have you faced? Comment below for other readers and I’ll address questions in future posts.


What Devices Are Really “Mobile” Anyway?

This is the second in a series of posts walking readers through the mobile advertising space. Stay tuned for more posts over the coming weeks. This post is also published on the Rubicon Project blog.

Fragmented Mobile

Fixing Mobile

In the last post I reviewed the market opportunity in mobile advertising and examined the unique challenges with each of the major operating systems in the market.  This post will focus on the various mobile devices and provide a structure for defining what constitutes “mobile”. Rather than thinking about mobile as one large group, let’s break it down by device type and screen size. Most devices (laptop, phone or tablet) now are “mobile” in that you could conceivably carry them around and get a Wi-Fi signal, browse the Internet and check email. However, research (and common sense, really) shows that this isn’t true in practice. From a practicality standpoint, how many people do you see walking down the street with an open laptop versus people typing away on their phone?

The term “mobile” gets thrown around and is used to classify pretty much any device that can be carried. However, to develop a comprehensive mobile strategy, you should think beyond the device and instead consider the form factor (i.e. size, shape, weight of the device) as well as how it is used. Through this lens, it becomes very apparent that smartphones and tablets are quite different even if both could be called mobile.

The mobile phone is very personal to the user.  It’s intimate, portable, in the pocket and always, ALWAYS with the person. According to a Gartner study of device usage, mobile phones are used throughout the day – 65% of users use them outside the home and 66% use them at work. These stats indicate that these devices are truly made to be on-the-go. Giordano Contestabile of PopCap Games enlightened a group at the Business Insider Mobile Advertising Conference with some survey results on PopCap’s users.  He indicated that 27% of their users take their phones to the bathroom.  Consider that next time you ask to use someone else’s phone.  All humor aside, this is clearly why the phone has been called mobile – it helps users with navigation, communication, entertainment and information in real time.

Tablets are different than mobile phones. They are not as personal as phones.  Rather, tablets are often shared by a household rather than used by a single person.  Perhaps due to this shared nature, they’re most commonly used at home. “But tablets are portable,” you’d argue. Sure, your tablet goes places.  It rides on the train, gets read on the plane, entertains children in the car; but it’s not in anyone’s pocket. So it’s definitely on the mobile spectrum, but also definitely isn’t the same use case as a smartphone. Apple’s recent announcement of the iPad Mini has created further nuance among these devices and introduced a new type – the mini tablet. While the jury is out on just how mobile these mini tablets will be, they will probably be used in ways that are more like standard tablets than phones..

Recent data from Neilson indicates that people will browse and search for products on their phone and tablet.  However, when it comes to purchasing, the tablet is king with 42% of respondents buying goods through the bigger screen. A second, rapidly growing usage of tablets is as the second screen in a newly coined “two screen experience”.  Epic shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead offer the enhanced experiences, sometimes with synchronized content on both screens.  In this scenario users are on the couch, in front of their TV, watching a show while consuming the additional content available on their tablet. The online components of big budget entertainment productions are no longer in the hands of lowly interns monitoring blogs and twitter.  Instead, the enhanced offering and growing user base is drawing unique components of advertiser budgets.

As you develop the user experience for your content, you should weigh these different use cases. By thinking beyond the definition of “mobile” you can get to the root of how a device and its form factor can impact user experience. Is your content immersive and does it require a larger form factor, or is it largely text-based? What are the most common devices that are used to access your content? The answers to these questions can serve as a guide to formatting and building content for mobile. What do you think? Do you consider phones and tablets separately, or does their extreme portability make them mobile? Comment below for other readers and I’ll address questions in future posts.

Opportunities and Challenges in a Fragmented Mobile Landscape

This is the first in a series of posts walking readers through the mobile advertising space. Stay tuned for more posts over the coming weeks. This is also posted on the Rubicon Project blog.

Fragmented Mobile

Fixing Mobile

Everyone recognizes that mobile advertising is a rapidly growing market. How fast is it growing? eMarketer has current year revenue estimates at $3.9 Billion. According to the Yankee Group mobile ad sales should nearly triple by 2016 to $10 Billion.  I think this estimate is low given the acceleration in market growth we’ve experienced so far this year alone. Revised eMarketer numbers now indicate nearly 100% growth for 2012 over 2011.  Further, eMarketer predicts that mobile will grow to over $23 Billion by 2016. This is much more consistent with Mary Meeker’s prediction of a $20 Billion mobile market.

Given this tremendous market opportunity, we have seen first-hand that numerous publishers are moving to mobile – building mobile applications, optimizing their web content and trying to figure out how to turn that mobile content into a dependable revenue stream. We are glad publishers are jumping in and are excited to be in the mobile space as well. However, we have also witnessed headwinds in this developing market and would like to use this blog to help publishers address these challenges.

The mobile display advertising space has some distinct challenges that fly in the face of the status quo of online display. These challenges conspire to make it more difficult for publishers to advertise across their mobile inventory. A primary complication is that there are three major operating systems (plus Blackberry), each with subtle differences that require research and technology to overcome. Let’s explore how each of these platforms differ.

Apple’s iPhones do not support Flash and ship with third party cookies disabled by default. The lack of Flash strongly affects the user experience and the ability to deliver Flash-based rich media creatives that render in online display (troublesome on iPad, where standard display ads are typically viewed with little loss of fidelity relative to their online counterparts). Additionally, the lack of third party cookies makes it difficult to perform simple audience targeting that we’ve grown accustomed to.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 platform is touted as having twice as much HTML 5 support, but still lags behind Chrome (Android), Safari (iOS) and even Blackberry.  We are hopeful that Windows Phone 8 will support HTML 5 to the point that publishers and advertisers can leverage the same mobile web ads across platforms.  However, there is a possibility that a lack of full HTML 5 support will require custom ad units for this platform. On top of that, Windows Phone 8 may also ship with the new Do Not Track (DNT) flag turned on, severely limiting the ability for publishers to achieve higher rates through traditional tracking and targeting.

Google’s Android platform seems to be the most compliant to the needs of the industry.  Android supports 3rd party cookies, DNT is disabled by default, device IDs are available in the app environment and it even supports Flash.  Of course this all supports Google’s advertising business, but they’re nice enough to keep the platform open for a variety of complementary and competitive third parties. By creating an environment most closely resembling online display, Google has made it easier for publishers to incorporate Android to their mobile experiences.

Where does all of this fragmentation leave us? Many publishers have been successful in traversing this fragmented market. If you are new to mobile, it can be daunting to figure out where to start. A logical starting point is to figure out what mobile devices are most common among your audience and focus on building your mobile presence there (at least initially). That way you limit the number of challenges you have to deal with. Eventually you will have to accommodate users across a variety of devices and platforms, so working with a partner that is platform-agnostic is critical. Look for partners that have a history of ad serving across platforms and formats.

In this series of posts, I hope to help provide some insights to help publishers that are still trying to make sense of the market. What challenges do you face in mobile? What specifically would you like insight and tips on? Comment below and I’ll incorporate into the subsequent posts.

Mobilizing Monetization

For the last six months my primary focus at Rubicon has been on our mobile strategy.  For me, last year was the year of Real-Time Bidding and this year is the year of Mobile.  Here’s an excerpt from my blog post that accompanied the initial launch of our mobile offering today. This post is also published on the Rubicon Project blog

Mobile AdvertisingIn 2013, eMarketer data suggests that the US mobile advertising market will be a two billion dollar business.  Over one third of those dollars will hit display advertising on mobile devices.   This is not a steady state.  The market is growing 45%-60% year over year, and this trend will continue for at least the next few years.

Publishers are having difficulty capitalizing on this trend.  Several sources suggest that only 25% of available display inventory is being sold.  With such low fill rates it’s no wonder that, to this point, mobile display advertising has been on the back burner for many of them.

In 2011 Rubicon conducted a publisher survey on a wide variety of aspects in the digital advertising market.  While many important topics ranked highly as publisher concerns, mobile was at the top of the list.  Our customers were asking us for a solution.

A typical mobile solution currently employed by many publishers involves running direct campaigns with one of several mobile ad-serving platforms.  Most of these systems have tools to target and serve direct campaigns, display reports and send unfilled inventory to a mediation partner.  This partner makes efforts to fill the inventory with the ads on hand, but typically serves blank ads much of the time.

During our mobile research in the first quarter of 2012 we found that a true monetization platform that handled mobile inventory properly for buyers and sellers was lacking in the market.  Some SSPs were offering mobile monetization, but the inventory they brought to the market was not always optimized for display on mobile devices.  Other vendors were offering an exclusively mobile solution, which required publishers to log into yet another system.

In the second quarter, the Rubicon Project acquired a small mobile company out of San Francisco and immediately set itself on a path to bring a holistic monetization solution for publishers that addressed display advertising in both online and mobile mediums.  Rubicon is making high quality, mobile optimized inventory available and attracting high quality demand partners to buy it.  Rubicon’s REVV for Mobile solution will bring higher fill rates to publishers at higher rates.

It was important to address both publisher needs and demand partner concerns.  REVV will isolate and validate mobile optimized inventory for buyers, which will bring greater buyer confidence and higher prices for the inventory.  Publishers will also have an opportunity to take advantage of our new mobile ad server for scheduling their direct campaigns as well as build highly interactive ad units that take advantage of the rich features of today’s smartphones.

With these powerful tools, REVV for Mobile will empower publishers to finally take advantage of the rapidly growing mobile advertising market.  Buyers and sellers will find the liquidity they’re looking for to transact safe advertising deals in mobile, just like they do in online display.