Nineteen-year-old software prodigy Brian Wong, who runs advertising startup Kiip, has finally broken his months-long silence to announce just how his company hopes to revolutionize in-game mobile advertising. Kiip recently landed $4 million in funding from venture capitalists including Hummer Windblad, True Ventures, Crosslink Capital and others.
"We're not about sticking banners in games," Wong told Adweek last week before the big announcement. "That's a great way to annoy a lot of people. A lot of mobile advertising right now is very Web 1.0, and it's about taking a piece of your screen. That's an attention exchange. We are trying to provide a value exchange. And we want brands to be part of that exchange."
Wong revealed that instead of displaying the typical pop-up ads and meaningless “badges” that often accompany free mobile games, Kiip will offer “real world rewards for virtual achievements”—think merchandise from Popchips, Sephora or Vitaminwater—to players who complete certain levels. An ad offering the reward will be displayed at a predetermined break in the game, like when the player clears a level. To get the prize, the player must open the ad and enter his e-mail address to receive a onetime e-mail from the advertiser containing a code to claim his winnings.
Wong doesn’t want the prizes to be the sole incentive for gaming, though. “We want the focus to be on you playing the game, not going out to get rewards,” Wong told Wired.com, so he doesn’t plan to make public what games will use Kiip. He is also making sure that the games don’t give away too many prizes by allotting each advertiser 100 points to use throughout the game. Plus, the placement of the awards will constantly change throughout play, so the gamer doesn’t know when to expect them.
So far, Kiip has done well in testing. Wired reports that more than 50 percent of gamers who have been offered a reward have actually opened the e-mail and tried to redeem it, which is an impressive number considering that online and in-game ads are clicked on in single-digit percentages, and often less. If the model proves as effective in real life, “there’s no reason the system has to be limited to mobile gaming or even games,” Wong said.