In Audience Monetization, Blog Articles

(Originally published on July 25, 2017)

I don’t know about your office, but lunch is pretty important around here. A good lunch can make or break your afternoon, so you want to make the right choice. That’s how I often end up bringing the same food, every time—my infamous chicken and broccoli. But you know, there’s new stuff on the menu at the taco place by the office. Stuff that could be delicious, like pork belly tacos. But I stick with the tried-and-true, even if it sometimes gets old.

Brand advertisers do this all the time (with their strategies, not their lunches… although maybe those too.) These days, perhaps the most delicious opportunity they’re overlooking is mobile in-app advertising. According to eMarketer, advertisers are still spending more on newspaper advertising than on in-app advertising ($20.55 billion vs. $20.27 billion in 2016, respectively), even though consumers spend 80% of their mobile time (a daily average of 2 hours, 25 minutes) in apps.

So why the hesitation? And what can brands, their agencies and game publishers do to move forward?

In January 2018 alone, more than 14,000 new apps were submitted to the iOS App Store—and 21% of those apps were games.

1. Brands don’t fully understand the mobile gaming landscape

The mobile app landscape has exploded so fast, it can be challenging for brands to comprehend. Consider this: in January 2018 alone, more than 14,000 new apps were submitted to the iOS App Store—and 21% of those apps were games. It’s no wonder brands struggle to recognize popular or promising apps unless they are trending or topping the charts—there are too many types and categories of games to keep up with, and each one has its own loyal fan base.

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2. Brands fail to appreciate the value of mobile gaming audiences

For decades, movies and pop culture told us that gamers were nerdy kids obsessively noodling over their computers and gaming consoles in the family basement. That wasn’t completely true back then—and it’s definitely not true now.

Mobile devices have brought gaming into the mainstream. Suddenly, people who wouldn’t normally think of themselves as gamers have a simple, intuitive gaming platform in their hands nearly all the time. By 2020, eMarketer estimates that 77% of mobile phone users and nearly ⅔ of the overall U.S. population will play games on their phones at least once a month.

Google Play has found that people who play mobile games tend to segment more along their gaming needs and behaviors than their age, gender or other demographics. In fact, most mobile gamers fall between 26 and 45—whether they are passive players, connected enthusiasts or something in between. Most brands are only just beginning to understand mobile gaming audiences, and have yet to wrap their heads around the different types of mobile gamers—let alone how or where to engage with them.

3. Brands don’t quite trust mobile yet (because it hasn’t fully met their needs)

There are three related issues to unpack here: brand safety, metrics and fraud.

  • Brand safety: Programmatic buying offers many efficiencies but it leaves brands nearly powerless to know exactly where their ads are running at all times. Most big consumer brands don’t want their ads running alongside pornographic, violent or inflammatory content, which is definitely an issue on the larger web. That said, mobile apps all have to go through app store approval processes, which weeds out the most objectionable content. With in-app advertising brand safety, the issue is more about advertisers assuming that what happens on the internet occurs at the same frequency and intensity across the mobile app landscape—and that’s just not so.
  • Metrics: Marketers need to show results for the money they spend. Unfortunately, mobile technologies, tactics and advertising formats are evolving so fast the industry hasn’t settled on standard metrics, best practices or even measurement technologies. Until that happens, brands are going to view any metrics they’re offered (attribution, viewability, fraud, deterministic location, etc.) with a certain amount of skepticism.

    For example, as recently reported by Digiday, “Ad buyers say they receive misleading mobile viewability reports because measurement vendors struggle to integrate into publishers’ apps. In effect, they know the figures reported aren’t true.”

  • Fraud: Digital advertisers are rightly concerned about fraud, especially as they’ve seen an alarming number of reports about malware, bots and other schemes. Yet, in a recent Association of National Advertisers (ANA) survey, brands reported less than 2% fraud in app and mobile web display ad buys. That said, fraudsters will always strive to outsmart the “good guys.” Until the industry settles on and implements consistent safeguards—and continuously improves them—advertisers will likely continue to overestimate the threat and therefore, remain wary.

What’s the antidote to fear? Trusted partnerships.

The reality is that it’s going to take time for brands to catch on to the value of partnering with mobile games beyond the Top 5 titles in the app stores. And though the industry is evolving at a feverish pitch, it’s going to take a while for all the measurement challenges to be addressed.

In the meantime, what’s a savvy brand marketer or game developer to do? Look for a monetization partner that has:

  • Experience and expertise in mobile in general, and mobile gaming in particular. Don’t simply check the platform’s website—call or email and ask questions. (You can’t get roped into anything just for asking questions. It’s their job to explain why you’d want to work with them, in detail.) Ask for real-world examples of successes and failures in mobile. You want a partner who’s been in it for the long haul, with a track record you can build on together.
  • Clearly defined standards for games and other apps within its network, with brand safety controls that evolve over time to keep pace with the industry.
  • Thought leadership and a commitment to developing and upholding best practices for measuring attribution, viewability, fraud and other metrics important to brand advertisers
  • Strong partner services with dedicated account support.

The last point is particularly important. Brands need help understanding the value of mobile gaming and gaming audiences, and they need guidance in matching their target audiences to specific app user bases. At the same time, game developers need help understanding what brands want and need. What’s more, many measurement solutions require collaboration between brands, publishers and mobile platforms—including technology and data integrations across all players. All of that requires trusted relationships, and the right partner can help you broker those relationships and solidify that trust.

Looking for the right firm to work with? Download our info sheet, 6 Smarter Questions to Ask Your Monetization Partners, for insightful questions to ask your potential monetization partners.


At Phunware, we’ve been working in mobile since 2009—when only 17% of the US had smartphones. Because we address all phases of the mobile app lifecycle, from strategy and building through audience building, monetization and beyond, the Phunware team has deep understanding and expertise in what it takes to succeed in mobile today. Our industry-leading Multiscreen as a Service platform helps brands and publishers engage, manage and monetize their audience’s journey over mobile—while ensuring an optimal experience for users, brands and developer partners alike.

Want to learn more? If you’re an agency or brand advertiser, contact Game developers and app makers, contact

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