Apr 10th 2020

Mobile Ads: Why the Right Balance of Content and Context is More Important Than Ever

From Digital Marketing Magazine, April 2020.


As COVID-19 keeps people indoors – and people are rightly following social distancing measures to help protect ourselves and others during this pandemic – record levels of mobile apps are being accessed. Since the UK announced a national lockdown on 24th March, the number of organic app installs – downloads that occur without direct effort from an advertiser – has surged 40%, and non-organic installs – ones that result from any type of marketing activity – are up 45%, per AppFlyer’s COVID-19 App Installs Report. Not surprisingly, gaming, education, health and fitness, and music apps all experienced upswings in installs, but social media is the standout, increasing 650% in organic installs last week alone. (AppsFlyer)

With that, mobile marketing needs to adapt. Mobile ads can be tailored to suit users, and by reaching this point of dynamic equilibrium, brands will not only connect with audiences, but also optimise brand engagement and hit performance goals, such as gaining high-value users, who are responsible for 85% of global app revenue, according to Think with Google.

Creative content

Most apps have global reach, so when it comes to content, creative teams have to think globally. Yet, at the same time, advertisers need to stay on top of local trends and customize creative content accordingly. For instance, Cinco de Mayo (5th May) is widely observed in the U.S., and marks a time to celebrate Mexican culture. By developing creative specifically for special occasions, advertisers can boost performance and sometimes double click-through rates. At the same time, advertisers must also be sensitive to the current crisis and should carefully consider whether certain messaging might not be well-received.

With the state of affairs changing daily, it’s more important than ever for advertisers to evaluate the performance for their campaigns, and adjust as needed. Advertisers must be responsive to feedback, consider best practices for a given market, and make modifications to creative content as needed. Oftentimes, local and regional variations in creative elements can greatly improve performance.

Ad placement

In 1996, Bill Gates famously proclaimed, “Content is king,” but in the case of mobile advertising, context is its royal equal. No matter how amazing your creative assets are, if they aren’t optimally placed, they may not connect with your target audience, or achieve your performance goals.
There are four main in-app placement types: 1. rewarded, 2. interstitial, 3. in-feed, and 4. banner. Because of the differences among the four in-app placement types, how you balance content and context varies according to the type of creative assets being used.


Imagine playing a gaming app, where the player loses a life but is given the chance to retry a level if they watch an ad. Here, the user actively opts in to watch an ad to receive a reward. This is called a rewarded placement, because the ad is chosen by the user during an in-app event.

Rewarded placement is valuable because the user is “active” in the ad experience, and has control over whether they want to view an ad. Rewarded placement allows you to run longer content, and the longer the ad, the more chance you have to connect. Even videos of up to 45 seconds in length perform well in rewarded placements. With roughly 75% of iOS ads delivered to devices in a portrait orientation, and similar numbers on Android, it’s important to make a portrait version of the video to captivate all users.

A great strategy to increase the overall ad creative duration is to use those in-app assets in a playable ad. This works for both games and brands. With the most engaging playable ads, some users will stay for over two minutes before downloading an app and returning to the publisher. Advertisers get their installs and publishers get their conversion.


An interstitial placement is where the ad is presented between states – for example, the user moves to the next level and is shown an ad during the loading screen. The user is automatically opted-in – usually into a full screen ad, but the ad is typically skippable. Like rewarded placements, interstitial allows for content to be longer. But because interstitial placements are predominantly skippable, they are often more disruptive to user experience. Take the hypercasual genre, for example. Hypercasual games are simple, instant, and lightweight, so your creative needs to fit the medium. A hypercasual app requires a hyper-engagement creative execution. Hypercasual user app mechanics, combined with a “between states” placement and user context, plus the option to skip, means your ad needs to have your best content front-loaded.


With in-feed placement, ads appear after a predefined amount of content has been consumed. In-feed ads are shown within a content feed, natively, and in-app. The impact of this category and approach is notoriously hard to assess. It’s very difficult to know if a user is actively consuming content or passively scrolling through. You should lead with your best content for an in-feed placement, because a long brand introduction may mean the rest of your 15-second landscape video never gets seen. At best, you have two seconds to capture the user’s attention. Also, make sure the most relevant content will be seen in the frame, whether that’s portrait or square. When it comes to creative, if you can include imagery in a product carousel or hero image, make sure it’s branded and includes assets that perform well across other placement and content types. It’s always a good idea to start with what you know works effectively elsewhere. (That doesn’t mean you can avoid creative testing, though.)


Banner placement is one of the most well-known approaches, carried over from webpages. In fact, the first-ever online ad, posted in 1994, was a banner advertisement. Banner ads are essentially “mini billboards.” Usually located as a narrow strip at the bottom of the screen, the sentiment is that this placement is generally low impact. The ad is frequently static and incongruous to the content surrounding it.

If a user is actively consuming the content of an app, to stand out, your banner really needs to pique interest. The goal is to create a compelling, concise, and clear banner, and this typically entails using a mixture of app logo, app tagline, and key character/graphic art from the in-app assets (and potentially app ratings as well). The secret is to build many combinations following a content framework, testing at scale before zeroing in on the most successful banner or set of banners.


Now, more than ever, it’s essential for advertisers to find the right balance between content (creative) and context (placement). Mobile ad creative can’t just rest on being a stunning work of art. Creative content needs to appear where, when, and how it will have the most impact on users. By applying creativity, data intelligence, and sensitivity, advertisers can make strategic decisions and successfully adapt to the ever-growing mobile app audience.

Ian Harris

Ian Harris

Head of Creative Operations, Vungle Creative Lab