• Advertising

Benefits of Apps Beyond the Walled Garden Technology Companies

Team InMobi
9 min read
Posted on February 09, 2021

In the United States, the prevailing notion is that the big “Walled Garden” technology companies like Apple, Google and Facebook thoroughly dominate the apps, services and wireless devices that are at the heart of the mobile and in-app advertising system.  

The truth, however, is not so clear cut. In fact, there are a lot of benefits that marketers can see by moving beyond the walled garden approach to in-app advertising. 

Using Open Platforms to Reach Today’s Mobile Phone Users 

Let’s get one thing clear: apps not owned by the major walled gardens are incredibly popular. In fact, half of all time spent on mobile in 2019 was spent outside of the major social media and communication apps like WhatsApp, Instagram, etc. And, this share has only been growing steadily year over year since 2017. 

It’s important to note that this half is not a small segment either. According to eMarketer, Americans will spend more than four hours a day on average using mobile devices. In particular, they predict time spent using smartphones to grow by almost 14% between 2019 and 2020. 

When it comes to mobile, it’s also important to note that this is an app-led space. In 2020, just 10% of all time spent using mobile devices is spent using mobile web browsers, with the vast majority of time being spent in apps. 

So if consumers are spending less and less time using the major social and communication apps, then what apps are they using? Top of that list are entertainment and video streaming apps, followed by mobile gaming apps.  

Two key things all marketers need to know about these categories in particular: 

  1. The entertainment space may be dominated by the likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, but ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) platforms like Hulu have seen enormous growth of late, throughout the bulk of 2020. This makes AVOD mobile apps often an ideal way for advertisers and marketers to reach a mass audience. FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV) apps like Pluto TV are also an ideal way to reach consumers. 
  2. Mobile gaming has been one of the biggest growth industries of 2020, and people were already downloading a variety of gaming apps in large numbers beforehand too. While marketers have long acknowledged the reach and scale of mobile gaming apps, the prevailing notion has long been that only young men play video games. Thus, brands that are not targeting this demographic have shied away from advertising in these environment. In truth, however, young men are not the majority audience in this category. In fact, our analysis of the hyper casual gaming category in particular found that this audience is heavily female, over the age of 25 and in the upper-income brackets. 

As this data shows, user access outside of the major closed platforms is truly unparalleled. For advertisers and marketers looking to reach and engage their best consumers, mobile apps outside of the Walled Gardens are often the way to go. 

What You Miss By Relying Too Much on Closed Ecosystems 

Most advertisers and marketers will devote investment to the Walled Gardens. After all, apps like Facebook and YouTube have massive scale that can’t be ignored.  

But that doesn’t mean that mobile marketers should put all their eggs in one basket. By being overly reliant on the Walled Gardens, in-app advertisers could be putting themselves at a disadvantage. 

In particular, here are some of the major downsides to advertising with the Walled Gardens: 

  • Share of voice is a concern. In the crowded social media environment especially, the ads typically do not stand out. Think about an Instagram feed. While ads are interspersed throughout, the dominant content is the organic content. In this kind of environment, it can be difficult for advertisers to make it through the clutter and ensure their ads are not just seen but also remembered. Contrast this with a fullscreen video ad in a mobile gaming app, where the ad can’t be ignored. 
  • Scrolling and skipping is very common. Within the Walled Garden apps, the user navigation experience is such that it’s all too easy to scroll past or skip an ad without really noticing it. After all, YouTube has played a key role in popularizing the six-second skippable ad. Many Walled Garden apps restrict users from seeing ads in full, without distraction. In comparison, with non-Walled Garden apps like video streaming apps, this kind of instant consumption is far less common, which means that ads are more likely to be seen and fully noticed. 
  • Reliant on their data and analytics. A key benefit to working with the Walled Gardens is that they have their own massive data sets and optimization techniques that they can apply on behalf of advertisers. While this often leads to positive results, there are two sides to every coin. For one, there’s no way for advertisers to know exactly what data is being used. There’s no way for an advertiser to gain a holistic understanding of who specifically are viewing their ads, who are clicking on them, who are exposed to them, etc., since the Walled Gardens tend to not share their data freely. In the independent ad tech ecosystem, mobile measurement providers and others provide third-party confirmation of all the data being used, ensuring that results are indeed accurate and trustworthy. In addition, advertisers working with the Walled Gardens are reliant on the analytics provided by them and frequently cannot use their own tried-and-true analytics solutions – no matter how limited the data provided may be. A benefit to working outside of the Walled Gardens is that advertisers can dictate both precisely what data they want to be tracking and how campaigns are monitored and measured. 
  • Brand safety isn’t guaranteed. Most of the Walled Garden apps feature user-generated content, which can cover a wide range of topics. As a result, there is not much that advertisers can do to ensure their ads don’t appear next to vulgar content, conspiracy theories, posts glorifying drugs or violence, etc. It’s a different story outside of the Walled Gardens, however. Not only are apps like weather apps or casual gaming apps brand safe based on their nature, but advertisers can utilize ad formats like fullscreen video to make sure no content whatsoever is appearing alongside their messaging. And certain third-party vendors like DoubleVerify do provide brand safety and brand suitability tools that advertisers can use when advertising in non-Walled Garden apps. 

Interested in getting started in an in-app advertising campaign outside of the Walled Gardens? Reach out today to learn more

Where Does The Term Walled Garden Come From? 

A fun history lesson here for you! A Walled Garden refers to “a limited set of technology or media information provided to users with the intention of creating a monopoly or secure information system,” according to Techopedia. They noted that the term “was created by John Malone, who started a company called Tele-Communications Inc., which was acquired by AT&T in 1999.” While the phrase “Walled Gardens” originated with telcos like Bell Systems and in the internet service provider (ISP) arena, it now commonly refers to internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. 

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