10/8/2014 10:08:40 AM
Moving Past Facebook for Better Mobile Game Ad Targeting
mobile game development, app monetization, mobile gaming, free-to-play model, freemium game
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App Developer Magazine

Moving Past Facebook for Better Mobile Game Ad Targeting



Fred Hsu Fred Hsu in Monetize Wednesday, October 8, 2014
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The mobile gaming industry has exploded over the last few years as Angry Birds and Candy Crush have made headlines around the world, and game advertisers are taking note. Many of these games have one thing in common: they are free-to-play, a model that has revolutionized monetization for gaming on mobile devices, opened up the industry to millions of players, and created tremendous revenue opportunities for app and game developers.

The free-to-play model provides developers with the flexibility they need to create and sustain their mobile games through in-game advertising. Players are often open to watching ads in exchange for free gameplay and in turn, game developers provide advertisers with the channels they need to effectively reach the audiences they want. 

But developers face challenges. First, gaming advertisers need to understand the dynamics of first, second and third party data in mobile advertising. Second, they need transparency – many who purchase in-game ad space are falling victim to the technology’s transparency struggles, often paying multiple 3rd party platforms like Facebook and BlueKai to reach the same gamer. And third, advertisers need data security for compliance.

Fortunately, there are also solutions to these challenges that the industry should begin adopting. I’ve outlined the challenges and some potential solutions below. 

First, Second and Third Party Data

One of the biggest issues right now is figuring out how to combine these forms of data to the benefit of the advertiser.

It is common for mobile game advertisers to rely on Facebook to get second party data for advertising. This is data that comes directly from the traffic source that Facebook utilizes to achieve advertiser campaign objectives in the form of a “black box” solution. Data goes in either directly from users augmenting their own profile, or implicitly through the collection of behavior profiles. Once the data is added in, no data ever comes out. This lock-box concept is the bread and butter of companies like Facebook.

Then there is first party data, which is supplied directly from advertisers, who have the specifics on their customers. Once they have built enough trust, some advertisers may want to share this data with networks to re-market to their passive user base or infer lookalikes of their desired audience. 

Lastly, third party data is data supplied by various data companies from sources such as Axciom, Transunion, and BlueKai. These companies have built large businesses based on proprietary data collection, modeling, and sharing methods.

All of these data sources become important in a common situation that is faced in many households: multiple people sharing mobile devices. For example – one person may be using Facebook and reading business news 10 percent of the time, and the other person may be spending the other 90 percent of the time playing dress-up doll games and making in-game purchases! Even if the device is being used by the same person, they can be identified by Facebook and another ad network differently. After reading Mary Meeker’s 2014 report on the state of the mobile industry, it’s clear that this data –  first, second and third – is going to pave the way for the future of mobile gaming, helping to bridge the divide between advertising spend and time people spend on mobile devices. The more accurate the data, the more money advertisers will spend.

Transparency, Compliance and Safety

Mobile ad exchanges are popping up all around the world, which affects how game advertisers should be approaching their advertising spend. The original mobile ad network concept from the early 2000s is being redefined as an ad exchange, creating a new need to properly vet exchanges on behalf of the end advertiser from not only a transparency perspective, but also a technical and security one. 

Some questions we should examine include: Which types of mobile games or apps are new exchanges representing? What kind of ad inventory am I getting myself, and my advertiser, into? How does the exchange properly tag or verify each piece of game ad inventory? We inherently trust Facebook to run mobile ads on News Feeds and other innovative placements, but how can you know where ads are truly placed inside over 1,000,000 apps other than Facebook? In a rapidly expanding ecosystem, it’s important to get answers to each of these questions to ensure compliance and safety for the advertiser.

Ensure Your Data is Secure

Lastly, it is critical to understand the difference between a technical policy and a technical infrastructure, and even more important to ensure that they are both sound. No contract will ever truly ensure adequate storage requirements, proper encryption and a sound data retention policy unless those systems are subject to audit rights by 3rd party certification entities, even by advertiser technical teams themselves – regardless of how tight your policy language is. This very concept scares the daylights out of most demand-side platforms (DSPs). In fact, those audit rights may apply from advertiser to DSP, DSP to exchange, and exchange to publisher. 

At the end of the day, game advertisers should ultimately be able to obtain full transparency down to the device identifier, site or game the advertisement was placed on, and how that ad transaction was securely delivered. For in-game advertising, various fingerprinting methods for anonymous identification of end-users reduce the level of transparency and accountability in the ecosystem, especially now that both Google and Apple support privacy-compliant identifiers specifically for advertising. 

Maintain High Standards

All of these issues can be resolved, with full transparency, for each delivered ad impression, click and device ID. Otherwise, the game advertiser must ask himself whether he may be throwing money into a black hole. 


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