While mobile devices have been a venerable, nuanced advertising platform for well over a decade now, 2020 saw advertisers finally settle any doubts about the medium. With stay-at-home orders in effect, mobile devices quickly rose in importance and demanded immediate attention from advertisers worldwide. From increased usage hours scrolling through social media, streaming videos, or playing games, mobile devices offered an advertising opportunity like never before.
Hoping to learn more about the medium and the trends governing its present and future, the Abu Dhabi SME Hub spoke with Warrick Billingham, General Manager - Brand, EMEA & LATAM at AdColony, an international mobile advertising platform servicing advertisers and publishers like Coca-Cola, Amazon, and BMW, with a reach of more than 1.5 billion monthly global users.
How would you describe the mobile advertising landscape in the UAE and MENA prior to COVID-19, and how is it different now in 2021 with things slowly returning back to normal?
No one can deny the power of mobile advertising and how it became the key to success for advertisers especially with the start of the unstoppable rise of mobile usage almost half a decade ago. Although some people consider mobile advertising to be a close relative to online advertising, the truth is that it has more various abilities to capture your target or future potential audiences' attention.
Especially with the start of the pandemic and long lockdown periods, mobile devices became our saviour, not just for communication, but also to allow us to spend some leisurely time through different kinds of apps across all demographics and not just for a specific time slot like what TV offers.
The first thing we do when we wake up and the last thing we do before we go to sleep is check our smartphones. It is also no secret that the pandemic has changed mobile ad spending.
According to eMarketer, total mobile ad spending worldwide in 2020 reached $276.21 billion with a growth of 18.3% from 2019. New and advanced options are becoming more useful for them to reach their audiences anytime they want. Our habits and expectations from brands and ads changed during the pandemic and it is pivotal for brands to show their audience how much they care about them and understand them through their campaigns.
The market is persistently growing and expanding across borders, and new businesses are looking for ways to adapt to this mobile advertising in more creative ways by using games and apps.
What would you say are the opportunities and pain points for this industry in the regional market, and how can these be addressed?
There are still some question marks in people’s heads when it comes to mobile advertising in general. Is it brand safe? Is it 100% viewable? And so on. Even though the answer for all these questions is yes, the pain point is to educate people around the questions about the industry.
AdColony is the first mobile ad platform to be integrated with Integral Ad Science, MOAT and DoubleVerify with 91.4% 94.6% and 91.1% viewability benchmarks respectively, which makes our Ad Quality Marketplace provide 100% transparent inventory. Most importantly, viewability ensures real human views by eliminating any kind of fraud, tracking higher performing ads, and increasing brand equity and awareness. With our professional, and 100% brand-safe inventory, we are also providing the best user engaging rewarded ads with our high technology. As an advertising network with all these technologies, one of our biggest missions is to inform the sector about all these issues, to follow technological developments, support brands, and to be a pioneer.
On the other hand, the pivotal change in mobile advertising and attribution is the elimination of the IDFA (Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers, which helps mobile marketers attribute ad spend). Of course the industry worries if the majority of users do not opt-in to ad tracking. Obviously, this presents a lot of challenges to the mobile advertising industry but it doesn’t mean it's the end of the world. In the mobile world, there is always a solution.
When it comes to asking users for permission, developers have more discretion than they might think. Instead of there being a single opt-out method, developers now have the opportunity to make their case directly to each new user with customized messaging.
On the opportunity side, the MENA region is big on digital, gaming, and mobile gaming specifically. The average time spent on mobiles within the MENA region is 4.6 hours per day and users are so receptive to ads. So it is obvious that with its strong economy and huge interest, the MENA region is slowly becoming one of the most important regions for the industry.
What are your takeaways in regards to the boom in mobile gaming spending spurred by the pandemic?
The mobile games market is larger than ever and shows no signs of slowing down.
According to Sensor Tower, revenue growth only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic and users spent more than $22 billion in mobile games in Q1 2021 globally. The report also stated that games earned more than $20 billion globally for the first time that quarter.
It is not a secret that mobile and digital are some of the rare sectors that have been positively affected by the pandemic. None of us can deny that the interest in mobile games has increased to a great extent, especially during a period when we had to spend most of our time at home. While the world continues to digitize faster than ever before, mobile games have become one of the most fun escapades during this process.
With the start of the pandemic, we took immediate action to understand users’ behaviours, like measuring traffic increase through our regions each week to show our clients how game downloads skyrocketed. We predicted that the users’ behaviours and habits will change drastically because of the lockdown. By conducting Coronavirus Impact Surveys, we analyzed the users’ “new normal” and expectations from the brands and the ads to provide better insights to them. It was clear that mobile games were taking firm steps towards becoming the most important advertising channel for brands.
All over the globe, mobile usage and mobile game downloads have increased very rapidly. According to GlobalWebIndex, 78.2% of adults are playing mobile games, which is huge proof that mobile games are the perfect environment for brands to capture their target audiences’ attention. When we look at UAE specifically, more than 70% of the adults in UAE are playing mobile games and UAE mobile gamers spend more than 4 hours on their mobile devices each day which shows that the MENA region is becoming one of the key regions in the industry.
According to Sensor Tower’s Mobile Market Forecast report, in 2020, consumer spending in the MENA region grossed $1.6 billion and is projected to reach $4.9 billion in 2025. Even though things are slowly going back to “normal” again, mobile games have already solidified their place in everyday life. App downloads surged in the first few months following the spread of COVID-19, and a spike in revenue followed soon after. While growth rates are expected to return towards pre-COVID-19 levels in the next few years, some of the lift will persist.
Mobile advertising has long been a mainstay of the marketing world. What are some dos and don'ts SMEs should be aware of?
Like every brand, whether it is global, local, or SME, the most important thing to do during a mobile ad campaign is to determine the target audience correctly. In this way, they can reach their target or potential audiences very easily without spending huge budgets.
Instead of positioning our business as a standard advertising sales house, we are positioning it as a 360-degree service and consultancy structure that serves our business partners in all creative, design, and operational processes. When advertisers work with us, they can implement a high-performance digital campaign even if they do not have any digital-appropriate material. They also benefit from the unique measurement and security certification opportunities we offer. Our awarded creative studio is also providing customized executions for brands by creating highly complex and innovative displays and interactive end cards.
Looking forward, what trends do you expect will have a role in shaping the mobile advertising industry, and how can SMEs be prepared?
Like society, brands also need to adapt to the new normal.
In this period, the most important decision for brands to make is how much they should invest in which medium, and which way they should follow to make their voices heard by their potential customers.
It is imperative that they prepare their video ads in accordance with the channels where they will be broadcast. Users do not want to see the same video ad on social media channels, news channels, television, computer, mobile devices, and mobile games. The main reason for this is that their modes and expectations are different in their time on these channels. For this reason, it is very important to produce media-specific content, and even if it is not produced, it is very important to organize the content according to the media.
Especially in this current period, the most important point is that brands and advertisers create ads that show that they understand users, empathize with their situation, relieve their concerns, and meet their expectations.