I’ve been working in the mobile app install space since its infancy, and for sure things are messy. Ad networks having no exclusive traffic and getting most of the spend away through exchanges. Hundreds of affiliates introducing themselves as proper networks, capable of driving insane volumes, true quality, when they actually buy traffic from each others. Let’s not even mention the dodgy stuff.
Mobile user acquisition is a game requiring enough experience to distinguish bullshit from real traffic. Game devs like Supercell have got a white/black listing approach for a reason. Others use agencies because dealing with this mess is truly painful. And every single UA person will pay strong attention to the logistical aspects of their campaigns, because in the end, performance is not just about CPI, but also about the time spent dealing with traffic providers.
Most of the recent mobile app success have all something in common : they got big between fall 2012 and the end of 2013 (Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans are the tip of this iceberg). If they got big at that time, it’s not thanks to some mobile ad network, or affiliate platform. It was because of a single publisher.
Facebook : the true market shaker
When Facebook kicked in its mobile offering back in 2012, it went really well for them, and their advertisers. Very simply, Facebook managed to offer the best performance, the best scale, the best quality. Basically, this was the first time these three aspects were delivered by a traffic provider, at the same time. Traffic was good, but it wasn’t the only aspect that won the UA crowd. All that sweetness was coming through one single and simple interface : Power Editor. I know Power Editor gets messy at scale, but compared to what every single top mobile ad network is still currently offering (bar Adwords), Power Editor is amazing.
UA managers faced a new paradigm. There was suddenly one and only one source that really mattered. And because Facebook is Facebook, the social platform managed to push its own rules relatively to tracking, conversion windows and even buying metric. When you think about it, Facebook managed to get UA people TO SPEND ON CPM, like our grannies used to. And it kept going on for at least 18 months because that funny oCPM worked for real.
In short, if UA people can make it with Facebook, and just Facebook, why go elsewhere and bother with the Millennial’s and InMobi’s of this world?
Even if putting all the eggs in one basket is not recommended, when the basket yields $0.5 installs at scale, the rule doesn’t count. So unless Facebook can’t take it all for a specific product, the number of reasons not to rely on it at 100% is limited : spend balancing, testing, region specific campaigns, …
But since February of this year, CPI have been rising quite a lot on Facebook, mostly due to increased competition. This situation has possibly led to some spend diversification here and there, putting back into the game smaller traffic sources. How long for before a Twitter/Mopub, a Google or a Facebook impacts the market like Facebook did in 2012?
Shaking things all over again with Facebook Audience Network?
Something we haven’t mentioned so far, is why big ad networks haven’t yet really suffered from Facebook? Well, there is one big reason : ad networks have been contributing to the mobile ecosystem since the first iPhone by monetizing hundreds of thousands of apps via banner advertising. A very complicated aspect to deal with for most publishers, as advertised fill rates rarely honored, forcing publishers to use several ad networks to fully monetize their user base. This phenomena has helped the growth of ad networks, but this growth is fragile, as Facebook Audience Network has more potential than all current traffic sources combined.
What is going to happen now that Facebook is just bringing the tools, the scale, the simplicity that all made a success advertiser side to publishers? Easy : publisher will try, and if the Facebook Audience Network is as good as it sounds, they will love it and ditch the rest.
Advertisers, on their end, have been craving for social data to use on ad networks for years. Until now, the only real choice is to buy traffic through tech/data platforms – which is usually better for higher margin business than mobile pure players.
If Facebook Audience Network delivers both for advertisers and publishers – which is not guaranteed, it’s clear that legacy traffic sources will take a hit. Hit after hit, we’ll eventually see this mobile advertising market consolidation some of us have been expecting for a while.