There are a whole lot of kids on Kik, which is getting increasingly serious about its advertising technology. With 40 percent of U.S. teens on the mobile messaging app, according to Kik, the Canadian company is betting that exchanging emojis for ads is the Web 2.0 version of virtual allowance.
On Wednesday, Kik announced a partnership with MediaBrix—which in the past has worked with brands like BMW, Coca-Cola and CoverGirl—to provide native-ad experiences in which Kik Points, used to buy emojis and other Kik content, are awarded for viewing ads or playing branded mini games.
MediaBrix isn't the only company working with Kik. At least a half-dozen others—including Snaps, Swyft and Adaptly—already are connecting brands with users in hopes of driving more engaging interactions than are possible with just banner ads.
"I think, more importantly, there's a notion that advertising doesn't have to be a tolerated nuisance," said Josh Jacobs, president of Kik's services division. "Advertising can actually be a welcome component to the user experience."
It's too early for Jacobs to offer specifics on how the ads are performing. But he did say Kik Points perform well as ad units and have a "very high rate of return" without disrupting user experience.
MediaBrix has seen impressive engagement elsewhere on the mobile Web. The company touted deployment numbers from Vizu, a digital advertising measurement company, which found MediaBrix's ads for a luxury auto brand had a 767 percent lift in purchase intent in a 2015 campaign. The company also said a fast-food brand received a 319 percent lift in awareness, and a consumer-packaged-goods company achieved a 135.9 percent lift in favorability.
MediaBrix CEO Ari Brandt suggested that Kik's teen audience—which brings with it a lot of skepticism and a low tolerance threshold—means marketers need to find better ways to create advertising that works with those users. He said most teens don't see brands as their friends and tend to see advertising as an obstacle.
"The ownership that it puts on brands and creative strategists is to ask, 'Are you contributing to the conversation, or are you derailing it and taking away from it?'" Brandt said.
Here's what MediaBrix's ads will look like on Kik:
Mobile messaging apps like Kik are experiencing steady growth. According to eMarketer, 65 percent of smartphone users will engage with messaging apps by 2017, with that number increasing to 70 percent in 2018 and 74 percent in 2019. Kik alone has 240 million registered users, 81 percent of whom are between the ages of 13 and 25. With an average of 250,000 downloads per day, it's also among Google Play's top 10 apps and in the top 20 on iTunes.
But will this massive audience ever provide the same level of targeting potential as other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter? Kik already offers some targeting but only through in-app opt-ins related to geography, age and other basic demographics. Last year, MediaBrix began offering its own targeting, such as for a celebratory ad after a user's team wins.
"I think we're buying into the idea that you can be very transparent with people about targeting to [the point of also reassessing] the expectation that you're going to bring them great and relevant advertising if they share [data]," Jacobs said.