Mobile advertising strategies: Essential ad formats and best practices

Anne Verhoeven

Oct 30, 2019

With 85% of all mobile usage spent on apps, it’s critical for marketers to form an air-tight mobile advertising strategy. Moreover, 78% of consumers are happy to see mobile ads that are relevant to their interests. By identifying your target audience and implementing the right ad format for your cause, you can capitalize on the versatility of mobile app marketing and reach your most ambitious targets. In this post, we outline the mobile advertising formats available to marketers and share best practices that will help optimize your mobile advertising strategy.

What is mobile advertising?

Mobile advertising is the practice of presenting advertisements on mobile devices, including mobile web, mobile apps, SMS and push notifications. An advertiser looking to promote their product can use publishers selling inventory to show their ads on a user’s mobile device. Mobile advertising presents unique marketing opportunities, such as deep linking users directly to your app’s page in the app store.

Another important component of successful mobile advertising is mobile measurement. A mobile measurement partner (MMP) can be used to tie a user with the ads they interact with, providing essential insights from detailed analytics. To learn more about how an MMP can help with your mobile advertising strategy, read about attribution with Adjust.

Different types of mobile advertising

When developing your marketing strategy for mobile, identifying the right ad formats for your particular needs will deliver best results. Publishers and advertisers alike can therefore benefit from learning each type of ad format and their unique benefits.

Banner ads

This is a traditional mobile format borrowed from marketing on desktop. The aim of a banner ad is to display an embedded image via mobile web or in-app to attract users to click on that ad. Despite its simplicity, a recent Liftoff report shows that banner ads are still an effective format that “outperforms native ads by a landslide when it comes to post-install engagement on Android.” However, this format may be subject to “banner blindness”, whereby users are so accustomed to seeing banner ads that they no longer take notice. For this reason, marketers may want to implement banner ads with a cost per click (CPC) model.

If you are advertising on mobile and desktop, you should also note that most banner ads are 300 x 250 to allow for problem-free cross-platform implementation – with 34% of all online ads fitting this standard.

Native ads

This ad format is designed to adopt the environment within which it is displayed. By implementing an ad that matches an app’s aesthetic, your ad is less intrusive to the user experience. This is why native ads are a popular choice among marketers, with the format accounting for 63% of all mobile display ad spend by 2020.

Interstitial ads

These are similar to banner ads, except they are a full-screen video or image. This ad format has a higher CTR than traditional banner ads due to their size and the simple options presented to the user: click on the ad, or exit to continue using the app.

Interstitial ads can also be used to advertise content such as videos and store locators. For best results, it’s important to offer a clear call to action and ensure that the full-screen ad is presented at opportune moments within the app – not during key moments of their user experience. According to leading in-app mobile video advertising platform MediaBrix, viewers spend 22% of the time looking for a way to close the ad when presented with interstitial ads. This means that targeting the right audience is especially important for this ad format.

Video ads & rewarded video ads

In 2019, $7 billion is expected to be spent on mobile video ads. They are a popular choice among marketers because they are highly engaging and offer high CTRs. Rewarded video ads can also be used to encourage users to convert. This ad format offers users something in return for viewing ads, which increases a publisher’s ad revenue and gives the user an incentive to view videos for longer. A study by OpenX shows that 77% of users would watch a 30-second ad in exchange for a discount from a retailer.

Playable ads

In a study by Emarketer, U.S. agency professionals found playable ads to be the most effective in-app ad format. This ad format gives users the chance to access interactive gameplay before installing your app. It’s a “try before you buy” offer: once the user’s limited time is up, they’ll receive a call to action to install the full game.

Rich media ads

Also known as multimedia banners, rich media ads contain interactive content such as videos, maps and games. This offers users a more engaging experience while boosting brand awareness, even if the user doesn’t install your app. For example, streaming giant Netflix used rich media to promote the third season of Bates Motel to great effect, using “more than 100 cameras to craft the season three preview images featured in web banners.” As a result, Netflix recorded a 49% jump in new viewers for the show.

Mobile advertising strategies: Six best practices

1. Understand where your users are coming from

One of the most important components of a marketer’s user acquisition strategy is learning where users come from. Without this, you’re running campaigns without gaining insight into what works and what doesn’t, preventing your overall strategy from improving. For best results, you want the exact opposite of this approach, whereby each campaign leads you to progress with better-informed decisions, even if a particular campaign isn’t successful. It is therefore essential for mobile advertisers to work with an MMP that ties users with the ads they engaged with.

MMPs provide the insights needed to map out a user’s entire journey, from how they arrived at your app to which in-app events they completed. Moreover, your analytics can reveal behavioral patterns that can be used to optimize your overall strategy. To learn more about events tracking, read our introduction to user acquisition, or deep-dive into the subject with our official documentation.

2. A/B test your ads before scaling up

For best results, it’s important to test the creative elements used for your ads. This is true across all ad formats, as A/B testing gives you valuable insight into which variant will convert the most users.

Depending on the ad format you’re implementing, the focus of your tests will differ. For example, you may be testing different designs and creative for your interstitial ads, or entirely different levels for your playable ad. Testing this with sample groups will give you the insight you need to scale up your campaigns with confidence.

3. Make use of social media integration

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of online adults use social networking sites, and this should be leveraged to optimize your mobile advertising strategy. Connecting your campaigns to the social presence you already have will help with brand awareness. For example, if your rich media ads have a shareable element, it’s smart to include an option where users can share this on social media. Pairing your ad with social media is also a cost-effective way of boosting your ad’s reach.

4. Ensure you have adequate fraud prevention

Mobile ad fraud affects all apps, with losses in 2019 estimated to be between $6.5 billion and $19 billion. Protecting your ad spend from fraudsters is a critical step that will ensure you acquire real users and that your data is kept clean.

Types of mobile ad fraud include:

  • Click spam: This occurs when fraudsters try to generate clicks for users who haven’t even been exposed to your ad, allowing them to take unearned credit for installs. For this reason, click spam is also known as organics poaching.
  • Click injection: Click injection is a form of click-spamming that can be performed on Android. Fraudsters can listen to install broadcasts to detect when other apps have been downloaded. They can then trigger clicks before the install completes, allowing them to receive the credit.
  • SDK spoofing: Also known as traffic spoofing or replay attacks, this type of mobile ad fraud is when legitimate-looking installs are created using real device data. (To learn all about how SDK spoofing is performed, watch this Mobile Spree presentation from our Global Product Communications Manager, Michael Paxman).

Our global benchmarks show that Click injection makes up 47% of all mobile ad fraud, Click Spam accounts for 27.98%, and 12.05% is SDK Spoofing. However, these figures change depending on app vertical. To learn more about mobile ad fraud, read our ad fraud white paper. We also have resources that detail the difference between click spam and click injection, and how to gain adequate protection with Adjust’s Fraud Prevention Suite.

5. Find a balance between new user acquisition and retargeting campaigns

Android users have 2.47 million apps available to them on Google Play, while Apple's App Store has 1.8 million available for iOS. Competition is fierce across all verticals, so it’s critical that you retarget valuable users who have installed our app and lapsed. Retargeting is a powerful way to optimize ROAS and LTV because these users have your app installed and have shown signals of intent.

Retargeting efforts include ads on mobile web and in-app, push notifications, and SMS. You can also track events and implement dynamic product ads (DPAs) to bring users back to your app: for more insights, take a look at our e-book on how to optimize your DPAs.

6. Focus on high-value users, not just CTRs

Click-through rates (CTRs) are a great way to learn if your ads are engaging your target audience, but they don’t tell the whole story. By tracking in-app events and learning which channels are bringing you valuable users further down the line, you can bring in more high-value users by replicating your most successful campaigns. For example, let’s say you want to compare two campaigns for your mobile game. Campaign A brought you 1,000 new users while Campaign B brought you 500. However, only 10 users from Campaign A made an in-app purchase, while 20 users from Campaign B completed a purchase event. In this scenario, the campaign with the lower CTR is better for ROAS, so it makes sense to scale up here to increase ROI.

For more insights on how to get the most out of your campaigns, read our Paid User Acquisition Guide. The UA guide explores winning strategies that will help you acquiring users and keep them engaged, as well as common challenges facing mobile marketers. Our format guide also outlines best practices for each ad format discussed in this post.

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