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We usually start with a brief introduction. Could you tell us about yourself and your current role in your organization?

S.C.: At Vungle, we strive to transform how people discover and experience mobile apps. Our goal is to be the trusted guide for growth and engagement, helping our clients optimise ad performance by creating and rapidly adapting ads that maintain user experience. As the VP of Vungle Creative Labs, I lead the charge on creating data-optimised content to drive engagement and increase returns for publishers and advertisers, ranging from indie studios to powerhouse brands.

Vungle Creative Labs’ secret to success is the multidisciplinary DNA of the team that combines creatives, technologists and data analysts. We’re constantly advancing our creativity and automation platform for custom creative, using data and machine learning to ensure our clients are on the leading edge of mobile advertising.

 

The main focus of this interview is Vungle’s joint initiative with the WHO/UN Call Out to Creatives to Help initiative – for creating ads and in-app advertising for public health awareness. How did this project come up? Who made the first moves?

S.C.: At the height of the pandemic, the United Nations/World Health Organization launched its first ever “call out to creatives to help” and we simply felt that it was an opportunity to create some really impactful work and really live up to our values. In short, we wanted to do our bit. 

The focus of the brief was for designers to create visual content explaining what steps people can take to slow the COVID-19 pandemic and tackle harmful misinformation campaigns. In a modern-day ‘Rosie the Riveter’ effort, we pooled our design talent, data analytics and gaming expertise and set to work creating a series of playable ads (i.e. interactive ads). Drilling into the principles of gamification, we created ads to drive user engagement around the key WHO messages of maintaining physical distancing and personal hygiene.

 

Tell us a bit more about the whole thing. Basically, you send health awareness messages just like in-app advertisements. Tell us more about the processes involved?

S.C.: The campaign strategy we developed and sent into the WHO/UN focused on delivering playable or interactive ads that carried a public health message instead of a consumer brand performance ad. The design process was also similar. We know from our wider work that gamification works in in-app advertising because it triggers powerful human emotions – think: the need for achievement, competition and status; the desire for reward etc. – so we applied the same thinking to this context. In one design, people interacting with the ads had to interact with the screen, swiping back and forth for the duration of time it takes to wash your hands before they could continue in their given app. 

 

What is exactly Vungle’s role in it? Do you use your data, testing and research insights to create, place and run the health awareness in-app ads, just like you do in the case of usual commercial ads?

S.C.: After reviewing the UN/WHO’s main goals and objectives, we selected the playable ad format as the most effective creative medium. Playable ads are dynamic, non-verbal ads that can transcend language and cultural barriers that could otherwise mean that certain messages don’t carry or fall flat. Visual language is a powerful way to drive home messages and encourage positive behaviour. We knew as the weeks of lockdown passed, there had been a significant uplift in mobile app downloads, so this format was really useful given the context. 

The team developed several creative options, choosing to capture the key messages of physical distancing and personal hygiene; some of the most salient health messages that many governments have advocated as fundamentally necessary to the emergency response. We then applied creative testing to learn, scale and adapt the ads at rapid speed to enhance user experience while still achieving engagement goals.

 

How are the users reacting to these health messages through in-app ads. Are their responses in similar lines as towards the commercial ads?

S.C.: We’re delighted to say that the ads have attracted over 36,771,804 million viewers so far, reaching both Apple and Android users in over a dozen countries. Excitingly, the work now also sits in a WHO library of artwork that will be used to educate individuals and communities all across the world as we pass through this global crisis and, hopefully, learn from it for next time. You see the library here: UN COVID-19 Creative Content Hub. In terms of the comparison to commercial ads, the click through rate has been impressive – 55 percent higher than the average click rate for advertising campaigns in apps –, but given the variables involved in the ad content and aims, you can’t really compare apples with oranges! 

 

You recently wrote about monetization strategies for in-app adds during COVID-19 outbreak. How are things going in the in-app monetization front over the last two months? Are the ad engagement and the revenues from in-app monetization going up or down? Would love to hear some stats and observations on this topic.

S.C.: As with every major crisis, the public turns to news and online platforms for information. With school closures and mandatory work-from-home policies, many of us in the industry expected some uptick in the number of mobile games being downloaded, and the initial upsurge post-lockdown was pretty massive. While entertainment advertisers are seeking to leverage this increase in demand and garner extra conversions as a result, it still feels too early to speculate on how things are going in monetisation and how resilient companies will be as we navigate these unchartered waters.

That said, as time goes on, we’re likely to see more and more people turning to apps that run on freemium models. This is what happened in China during the lockdown there. With users flocking to apps, it’s a good time for mobile marketers to strategically optimise their in-app spend, but we recommend engaging with partners who can really help them navigate this uncertain terrain. 

 

We focus on the gaming and gambling sector. The real world of sports has come to a standstill, with all the major sporting events getting cancelled. How did that affect the mobile advertising sector? Is there being a case of another door opening when one door is shut?

S.C.: While in-app advertising for sporting and gambling apps has taken a hit, users have transferred their attention to other apps that help tackle boredom, find some fun or, in many cases, manage their anxieties – for example, anecdotally we know that people have been trying to “upskill” with language apps like Memrise or Duolingo. So, the users are still there, but their allegiance to which apps has simply changed. When sporting events start up again (and as we’ve seen with Premier League football recently restarting), we can expect the sector to see a change in their fortunes. 

 

We shall conclude with a look into the future. What are the major changes, if any, that we could see in mobile advertising? Our readers appreciate your insights on this.

S.C.: AI continues to shape the future of mobile advertising, with the continued proliferation of machine learning algorithmic and automated bidding products from the likes of Facebook and Google having a strong influence. These technologies are taking control away from advertisers with respect to which target levers to pull in their campaigns and instead decisions are being made based on data. This data includes aggregated intelligence from different industries and markets, as well as billions of consumer data points like key words and searches, device types, and geographic locations – all of which will inform what works best in terms of ad spend and budget allocation.

“Seed” audience data – consisting of users who have already shown their interest by taking actions like clicking an ad or purchasing a product – and creative remain the two most impactful levers for a marketer to influence performance and scale. This has led to considerable investment in creative studios and technology that support the ability to produce massive amounts of creative variants, which can be piped into campaigns for testing. Creative that is adaptive and responsive to user preferences will continue to grow. 

Finally. short-form, video-sharing apps are a huge trend, and have enormous potential to reshape mobile advertising. Because this type of content feels more native – its users self-describe as creators rather than “influencers,” developing ways to draft behind it is exciting new territory we need to explore.