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Buying Paid Media on the Mobile Platform: iAd vs. AdMob

April 22, 2013 - Advertising, Business, eCommerce, Mobile - , , ,

For most brands, the choice when diving into mobile paid media comes down to iAd versus AdMob. When you compare them head-to-head, you see they both have their pros and cons. To make a huge generalization, the differences come down to the basic philosophical split between Apple and Google: one is more expensive, more engaging and all about the user experience as a way to drive results; the other is more generic in look and feel, costs less to get started and offers very user-friendly start-up and tracking.

iAd is Apple’s proprietary system for placing ads on the OS platform. It launched with great hype and a healthy dose of Apple pixie dust sprinkled over it. The promise was that a mobile display ad on iAd would no longer (in Steve Jobs’ word) “suck”; the ads would be more engaging, more contextual and of a higher creative caliber. You would be able to build ads that transcended the simple banner format and allowed far more creativity. As a result, the network has benefitted from a lot of hype and positive word-of-mouth from Apple acolytes (of which I am one) since its launch.

Apart from the creative elements, some of the practical advantages of launching on the iPhone platform include a single size standard and a reliably diverse and engaged installed audience. And if you look at user comments on discussion boards, the feeling is that iAds delivers stronger eCPM results across a wider array of brands.

The flipside of this is that you are only reaching iPhone users. And depending on your product and audience, this may or may not be a good thing. iAd also serves to perpetuate Apple’s closed universe theory: you cannot link out to a website, only to the Apple App Store. Again, depending on your campaign objectives, this can present serious limitations.

The knock on iAd has been their historically low fill rate. As the network has grown, they have not been able to deliver enough content and so you get a lot of blank ads. The more pressing concern for any new advertiser is that iAd generally requires a much larger commitment than AdMob (where you can run a $50 test if you want, although you may not see any usable results from that spend). iAds was originally conceived as a platform for major advertisers and they haven’t really started accommodating the little guys yet.

AdMob (which was purchased by Google in early 2010) has the advantage of being platform-agnostic: they run their ads on any device or OS. This obviously makes them the default for any brand that must speak to Android users and any brand with a big enough budget to move beyond iPhone/iPad owners. As part of their agnosticism, you are also afforded far greater flexibility in where your ad is going and what you link it to.

AdMob is incredibly easy to integrate, to run as a test and to track results. Remember, this is Google’s entry: they are looking to bring small business owners the same ease-of-use and trackable ROI to mobile that they pioneered with AdSense.

On the downside, AdMob ads are more limited in terms of size and interactivity. The standard AdMob ad can come in one of two banner sizes, the small strip you see along the bottom of many free apps and a larger banner that fills most of the screen. It’s interesting to note that AdMob will tell you that, despite the difference in size (and cost) they see little difference in response rates to the two sizes and the smaller banner is generally considered a more efficient buy.
AdMob fill rates have always been higher than iAd rates, although many people will tell you that when they run test on both, they see an overall more efficient buy, with a lower eCPM on iAds.

The bottom line is: if you’re just getting started, AdMob is as easy as you could want. You can stick your toe in the water with very little initial investment and start to get a sense of what will work for you. But when you’re ready to make mobile display a stand-alone budget line item, you’ll need to bring iAd into the mix.

Tomorrow, we’ll post a final entry in this series, where we discuss best practices for mobile advertising.

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