Mobile Advertisers Should Think Twice Before Overspending for ‘Premium’ Inventory

The following is a guest contributed post by Jeff Marshall, CEO of CrossInstall

At one point, premium digital inventory was highly coveted by advertisers, who were willing to pay a premium in order to reach a user base guaranteed to be high quality. But in today’s mobile ecosystem, that same group of “exclusive” audiences can be found on any number of apps — some from “premium” publishers but many from independent developers that you may have never heard of. In the modern advertising ecosystem, a strategy that focuses on media placements and publishers is outdated, while today’s savvy marketers know to place quality of users at the forefront to achieve success.

Brands that have a premium-only mindset are doing a disservice to their companies by being drawn in by something so historically alluring. A sole focus on premium traffic fits uncomfortably into today’s evolved world. But, before diving into the details of how to reach premium traffic for fair prices, it is imperative we cover the much-forgotten semantics of what really defines premium traffic inventory.

Defining Premium – Misconceptions

In the desktop world, premium is clearly defined. It is easy for advertisers to send to their ad networks a list of well-known websites (i.e. CNN, New York Times) and to whitelist those sites. However, this same process in mobile actually narrows the potential number of valuable users. Which brings up the question — what really is premium traffic? Generally, apps that offer user-generated content, hardcore games, and certain types of news are not considered premium. Brands don’t consider these safe spaces and believe they can encourage negative associations. Shaune Kolber, Programmatic Creative and Ad Fraud Manager at Dell, mentioned during a panel at Programmatic I/O on “Ad Quality: Who’s Responsible?” that “As a brand we are willing to pay more for quality.” He gave the example of being suspect of the safety when he finds chicken for $1/lb when the market rate is $10/lb and compares this to premium vs. non-premium inventory. Understandably, brands don’t want to be associated with something unrelated to their ad.

Defining Premium – Reality

In fact, what is stereotypically considered non-premium traffic is now a safe space for brands. We need to eradicate the belief that good value indicates low quality, and shift our definition of premium to include not just the content, but the users viewing the content. Savvy marketers know the benefits to creating both a contextual, environment-based strategy and an audience strategy, where they target by data. In fact, those people who play mobile games and use apps are more open minded toward brands’ messages. According to a study done by Tapjoy, 34% of users feel happier when playing mobile games, even more so than those using social networks, and 59% of people feel more relaxed.

Get In the Mind of the App User

Contrary to popular belief, we need to emphasize less where the user is and what type of app he or she is on and more what type of user it is. If you want to sell someone a car, or big ticket item, you can remain top-of-mind by reaching users who are more receptive to ad messages. Brands, and DSPs working on their behalf, are buying individuals who have emotions, feelings, and preferences. This means, as an industry, we should humanize what we perceive as traffic and leverage user type for strategic decisions. Just because a user looks at a car ad doesn’t guarantee that he or she is the best target.

Even better, let’s say the CEO of Forbes is our user who is playing a game or browsing through an app while he is driven to the office. Then are you saying the CEO of Forbes isn’t premium? You would miss out on this high-value user who is willing to spend money. DSP’s have the ability to run on whitelists, but it is your own best interest to utilize their scale and strategically target certain types of users. Furthermore, technologically advanced measurement and tracking enables marketers to track users throughout the entire mobile ecosystem — so you can make data-driven decisions based on what users are actually doing. Each time a user makes a move (or interacts with an app), you can respond accordingly with strategic ad design.

Pay the Value Users are Worth

How do you find premium users and pay exactly the value a user is worth? Any advertiser seeks to appeal to a targeted group of individuals. It is a DSP’s job to obtain those users at the best value. Brands are willing to pay more for quality, but this doesn’t exclude them from a desire to maximize return on investment. No one can argue with reaching additional users at fair prices to increase ROI. Companies that have caught on are already building their businesses on the backs of people who play games and finding them within hundreds of thousands of apps.

Low Cost Doesn’t Mean Low Quality

Within the mobile ecosystem, there is no need to worry that non-premium inventory means your ads will run on extreme sites associated with shocking or harmful content. Both Google and Apple have content guidelines and take action to combat such content that doesn’t meet their terms and conditions. Apps must meet certain requirements and restricted content includes items that are sexually explicit, violent, promote bullying or harassment, or encourage hate speech, among others. Beyond having measures to promote a content-safe environment, it’s also about reframing the question. Jonah Goodhart, former CEO and Co-founder of Moat and current SVP for Oracle Data Cloud, said in a panel during Programmatic I/O NY that “It’s not to say you can’t have low cost, high quality. It’s just to say that you should always be asking the question of what is the quality of what I’m buying.” We need to shift the focus from traffic to users. It’s the job of a DSP to sort through the traffic and find the premium users. The premium aspect of the apps DSPs run on is the audience behind them. App traffic is not a spray and pray approach as historically supposed. What was once considered non-premium is now a brand safe environment with the ability to target a brand’s audience to provide the best of both worlds. We need to expunge the desktop-based stereotypes about premium traffic and welcome in an app-based perspective. It doesn’t matter what app someone is on when we target and reach them.

What is considered “premium inventory” is an age-old concept that is outdated based on a web-based view of the world as opposed to today’s mobile-based society. As Goodhart does, we need to reshape the question with an audience-first perspective. Why hold onto a view that is uncomfortable and out of place? Embrace the user and the current definition of premium.