In The Fight Against Apple's iAds, Google Plays The Cross-Platform Card

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While there are many players in the mobile advertising market, there’s no doubt that there’s a little bit of a rivalry between Google’s ad network AdMob and Apple’s new foray into mobile ads, iAd. Some say iAd is taking some of AdMob’s share in the mobile ad market thanks to better performance. One of the cornerstones to iAd’s claimed success is that the format was developed by the company that actually makes both the device and OS and provides a more engaging experience. The same theory is probably what has made RIM enter the mobile ad wars, recently launching a mobile ad platform for BlackBerry phones. But AdMob contends that its platform is still appealing to advertisers because it allows brands to reach consumers across many different mobile platforms with similar engaging ad formats, whereas programs like iAd restrict advertisers to one device. Oh, and there’s the minimum $1 million ad buy Apple reportedly requires to serve ads through its network.

Of course, it’s not surprising that AdMob is pushing its multi-platform network as its competitive advantage; the openness of Google’s network is its badge of honor. But some well-known advertisers are actually choosing AdMob because of its multi-platform support for many devices, especially with the ability to target both iPhone and Android users (which is a steadily growing population).

For example, Seattle’s Best Coffee chose AdMob for its campaign promoting the coffee company’s “Latte In A Can” product. Robson Grieve, the President of Creature, the ad agency responsible for the campaign, said that AdMob was the most logical choice because it was the “best chance to get a cross plaform consolidated campaign.”

The campaign included ads ranging from standard banners, animated banners with text links, to full page interactive interstitials on both Android and Apple devices. So far, he says performance has been great. More than 139,000 users were delivered to Seattle’s Best Coffee’s mobile site from the ads, and the full page expandable units had an interaction rate of 5.7 percent. The Interactive Interstitial formats earned a click-through rate of 5.4 percent, while CPM placements averaged a CTR of 0.9 percent.

Another well-known brand, car manufacturer Infiniti recently ran a cross-platform campaign across a range of devices including iPhone, Android and iPad with a series of advertisement formats that promised the interactivity and engagement of Apple’s iAd.

Of course, Google’s AdMob also helps companies target Android devices as well. Restaurant reservation platform OpenTable also chose AdMob to promote its Android app. The company ran CPC text ads on mobile websites and more than 16,000 Android apps on the network. During the campaign, daily downloads of the app increased by 125 percent and installs took place over 75 different Android devices. OpenTable also ran and iOS app promotion campaign with AdMob as well, and saw positive results.

On the other hand, Dictionary.com recently ran a similar ad campaign with Apple’s iAd on iPhone devices, and saw its overall iPhone mobile app eCPM (effective cost-per-thousand impressions) increase by 177 percent. Dictionary.com declined to reveal CTRs but did say that iAds are performing two to three times better than the average mobile display ads. Other brands have also seen positive engagement results with the iAd platform. For example, an ad for Dove products saw a “double-digit” percentage of users who wanted more information about the product that was advertised, with 20 percent of viewers returning to the advertisement. In august, Nissan reported CTRs for its iAd were five times the click-through-rates of same campaign on websites.

Of course, it’s tough to make an accurate comparison of AdMob’s data without comparable data from Apple’s iAd platform. We’ve received some statistics from the developer side on how much iAds are earning (which have been a mixed bag). A source with knowledge of the technology tells us that iAd CTRs are 0.5 percent to 0.8 percent generally, sometimes as high as 1 to 1.5 percent. One iAd developer claimed iAd CTRs as high as 11.8 percent (that’s compared to the 0.9 percent for the Seattle’s Best campaign). This seems high and could be an outlier. And this is not an apples to apples comparison (no pun intended) because we’re not sure if the CTRs are for the same type of ad format.

This iAd data on CTRs is inline with other reports as well. On this Apple developer forum, a user anecdotally reported that the developer’s app was seeing zero clicks on 700 iAd impressions. In contrast, the developer writes, AdMob reports around 10 clicks per 2000, in his experience. Another developer writes, ” I had 3000 impressions and 23 clicks on AdMob (0.77% CTR), I had 2200 and 14 clicks on iAds (0.61% CTR).”

Jason Spero, Google’s director of mobile for the Americas (he previously ran North America for AdMob before it was acquired by Google); says that because mobile is a collection of devices with different size screens, OS platforms, speeds and more, Google is trying to minimize the technology that advertisers need to deal with.

There are a few things we know for sure. With a $1 million minimum ad spend, iAd is definitely not going to replace AdMob’s more flexible advertising network. And with continued growth in the number of iPhone users, Apple’s iAd platform will be appealing for those big brands who can afford it. However, mobile advertising is on track to become a $1 billion market next year and there seems to be enough room for everyone to play nicely and make a few bucks.

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