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They Might Be Giants

From Google to startups like Square, a look at seven would-be mobile titans



Brian Wong
Founder and CEO
Kiip

Brian Wong’s “forced sabbatical” might be the best thing that’s ever happened to the 21-year-old CEO of Kiip (pronounced “keep”).

After being laid off in 2010 during Digg’s downward spiral, Wong took a trip to Asia. He noticed on his flight the scores of passengers entranced by games on their smartphones and immediately thought about the advertising implications. “I started to do some digging and realized that the way that advertising had manifested on mobile was abysmal,” he says. “I dissected every mobile game I could find and noticed quickly that there was one universal component across every game: the achievement.”

Following that initial revelation, Kiip’s mobile ad philosophy is all about granting both digital and physical rewards for users in the moment. Essentially, Kiip provides consumers with virtual rewards, coupons, gift cards and the like for achievements in gaming—for example, accumulating a certain number of points. The theory is that brands inserting their messages between gaming levels, while providing value, is far more welcome than a mobile in-game banner.

Kiip isn’t the first to attempt a reward-based in-game/in-app system. But unlike Kiip’s competitors, Wong has made sure his platform feels serendipitous. “We want people to encounter Kiip on their own terms,” he says. “I’ve always been about tapping into existing patterns of behavior—it’s the most organic. Human beings are not Pavlovian dogs.”

Even by wunderkind standards, Wong is young (he graduated from college at 18). It’s something he wields to his advantage. “The stigma of a young CEO has actually converted into a positive thing for us,” he says. “People expect you to be innovative and energetic when you’re young.”

Wong’s youth is most apparent in his philosophies on the future of advertising and mobile. Unlike many digital executives, Wong doesn’t do much hand-wringing over the struggles in mobile advertising.

“I think advertisers have spent too much time moaning about how small and limiting the mobile screen is but have forgotten that it is one of the most intimate devices that we’ve ever owned,” says Wong. “As a result, it is the best opportunity for a brand to create an even closer relationship with their customer.”

Measuring real consumer engagement as opposed to calculating CPMs, Wong believes, is crucial to the future of mobile. “CPMs are rooted in volume and tonnage thinking that was based on a lean-back model, but the phone is a more dart-by-dart approach,” he says.

To accomplish that, Wong and Kiip have settled on a mantra for 2013, deciding that “moments matter.” Kiip will continue to hone the company’s ad model through better contextual targeting. “A fitness moment for a male [completing a run with an app, for example] would be a great opportunity for a Gatorade reward,” Wong says by way of example. “It brings the brand into that moment and gives them an opportunity to tie that reciprocity to a real emotion.” —C.W.

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