Appssavvy’s Chris Cunningham on activity-based ads, mobile advertising and brand advertisers

Mobile advertising company Appssavvy wants to give app developers and publishers the ability to rethink the way ads are both delivered and received on smartphones through its activity-based ads. Since Appssavvy released its Adtivity mobile SDK last September, the company has seen rapid growth on its platform from both mobile games and other apps.

Recently, Inside Mobile Apps sat down with Appssavvy co-founder and CEO Chris Cunningham to talk about how mobile developers can find their natural breaks to deliver ads, what’s broken with mobile advertising and how brand advertisers’ perception of mobile ads needs to change.

Inside Mobile Apps: Since the launch of the Adtivity by Appssavvy mobile SDK last year, how successful has it been for mobile game developers?

Chris Cunningham, Appssavvy co-founder and CEO (pictured right): Since our platform launched we have experienced rapid growth from the publisher community, specifically in gaming. Since then, we have released a few other variations. It’s been getting more momentum and more speed. The biggest learning that we’ve had is to enable a lightweight, flexible SDK that gives publishers the ability to work with other revenue channels.

IMA: How do you help developers know where their activities are and determine what’s a good spot for an ad?

Cunningham: Our team will generally try to find natural breaks. Television has its natural break, it’s called a 30-second spot and it’s somewhat effective. Digital has failed to recognize its 30-second spot. We will proactively let developers know that we think their natural break is between level three and level four, or after a game over, or after you send a gift. More importantly we give the game developer the ability to help determine what their natural break is based on data. The next step is to identify and call out the last thing that the user did in between that natural break. When we implement our API, what’s very distinct about our platform versus other companies is the frame dynamically pulls the last thing that the user did that provides greater context. For example ‘congratulations, you completed level three, good luck in level four’ or ‘here’s a word from our sponsors,’ that makes the user feel more intuitive to ‘ah hah, I know why this placement is here.’

In addition to that, the platform and the data that we’re collecting ultimately goes back to the publisher, so they can actually understand ‘well should we frequency cap at three or four?’ ‘Does frame X or Y work better?’ As far as ‘sponsored by’ or ‘thank you.’ What we’re trying to give them is the toolset that gives their users the best experience to when that ad appears.

IMA: Who are some of your mobile game and mobile app partners and who are some of your advertising clients?

Cunningham: The DNA of the company has always been brand dollars, less about [direct response]. In categories such as [consumer packaged goods] or beverage — Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, General Mills. Categories such as finance, we do extensive work with the American Expresses and Samsung. Entertainment in some categories — Sony Pictures, Universal — but the strongest category for our company is technology and finance and consumer packaged goods. Within the publisher set it includes companies like Disney, Scopely, Dice with Buddies… Jango is another top publisher that we work with. We’re beginning to see more outside of the gaming realm, other companies such as LA Times leveraging their gaming environment such as crossword puzzles or say AOL Games. We’re excited to see not only the traditional mobile gaming community adopt the platform, but also the old guard media companies beginning to identify the value of activity-based advertising.

IMA: What is another category of mobile app besides games that could use activity-based ads?

Cunningham: The upside for the gaming community is that they have the highstensity [sic] and propensity of activities. We [also] service both Facebook and web — you can imagine there’s less comments, votes and polls taking place there versus the abundant amount of natural activities within gaming. The closest ecosystem to the mobile gaming is the LA Times crossword puzzle, AOL Games. It’s the gaming environments that other media companies have beyond their home page. With that being said, we see our frame being delivered after sending e-cards, purchasing items, sharing, reviews and comments. The bigger message is that millions and millions of activities take place every single day on desktop and mobile, but yet for the most part, they have never been viewed as a vehicle to trigger an ad. A huge opportunity there.

IMA: What is the difference between your ads and the ones your competitors serve?

Cunningham: There are a lot of companies that serve ads and deliver ads, which fine, but to me that doesn’t offer the publisher a ton of value except a check. The biggest distinction that we’re known for in Silicon Valley is that we’re creating the inventory — we’re helping them identify that natural break. No. 2, we’re using that frame around the ad, which is sort of our secret sauce that provides that greater context for the user experience. No. 3, we’re aggregating based on us being the implementation, the data that understands what people did pre and post. Ultimately, if you’re a publisher or game developer and you log in to our portal, you can see your daily revenue, you can see how your frame is performing, you can see how you index against other categories within that index. At this stage, I haven’t even mentioned the dollars, but we happen to drive higher CPMs than industry or competitors, and our performance generally seems to be higher as well. Most companies are offering either the performance or the dollars, but the larger picture of our model is the data capture, the inventory creation, we give back to publishers.

IMA: Can you disclose how many people see your ads each month?

Cunningham: To give a pretty broad sweep, we reach 85 million people across the Adtivity platform. Mobile represents somewhere between 35 and 40 million of that network and that’s growing. We’re just on the tip of the iceberg. We’re not in the game of trying to compete with the traditional mobile ad networks such as Jumptap or Millennial. Those companies’ models are lots of reach, tons of eyeballs, tons of inventory, but in my humble opinion, that’s the problem with our industry is there’s too much inventory that has no perceived value. Users ignore ads, they generally perform low, so what we’re trying to do is clean up the web, deliver less ads, but ads that are large and beautiful that users can see that have a better response.

IMA: What is the potential of the mobile advertising market right now?

Cunningham: The potential of the mobile advertising market is massive, but there’s a problem that I don’t think that the developer community or gaming community are really [recognizing]. Digital represents almost a $35 billion market, however mobile is in the very small single digits — five to six percent. The reason that it’s such a small number is small, tiny little banners that users of iPhones and and other devices don’t trust. They trip over them accidentally. They’re worried that if they click on them they’ll be taken to [a] destination that they don’t want to go to. The perception and trust of advertising in mobile is extremely low. You look at the mobile, and it’s that tiny little placement that you can barely see, [so] it’s very logical why their dollars aren’t coming there. What’s lacking in mobile advertising today is large, beautiful ads. The only way these large brands are going to spend more money is if they can see large, beautiful ads.

And to further that, if you’re a developer, or an entrepreneur or founder your reaction cannot be ‘well advertising sucks,’ ‘it’s ineffective,’ ‘it’s annoying.’ Advertising had a bad perception because the way we deliver is what’s been broken. What we’re signaling and calling out very hard to the mobile gaming community and other publishers is just rethink how and when you deliver ads. It’s not just going to come through the Adtivity story. It’s going to have to come through a healthy, competitive environment that is showcasing that you see large, beautiful ads in mobile environments. I believe that emphatically and passionately. That is the biggest gap or opportunity.