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iAd for Developers

For those with a short attention span.

Advertising for apps within the App Store, even on the new iAd for Developers platform, is likely ineffective for driving sales.

From August 19 through August 25 I ran a campaign on the newly released iAd for Developers platform for our Audiobooks Premium app. The results were, to say the least, disappointing. For all the promise of selling your apps directly within an advertisement, it appears that so far this is not a viable way to drive traffic and create an economically sustainable promotion. For $1,251.75, my campaign generated a total of 84 downloads, thus a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) of ~$15. For a $0.99 app, those economics just can’t work out.

For the intelligent reader who wants the details.

This campaign is the last in a series of trials with just about every mobile advertising platform to try and find an edge in promoting our apps. The goal is to find an economically viable way to introduce our apps to new customers, who might not find them through the typical Top Charts within the App Store. When iAd for Developers was announced I was really curious if Apple had finally cracked the puzzle of discoverability with a way to put our apps directly in front of users and provide a seamless way to buy them. Here is my experience for all the developers out there who are considering this for themselves.

The Process

The iAd for Developers program is pretty straightforward. You just go to the launch page for the program and submit your contact information. A day later you’ll get an email from someone at Apple asking you to setup the paperwork and provide the ‘creative’ (i.e. the banner image for the campaign). You need to provide them with a portrait and landscape image formatted for a standard and retina display. The pricing for a campaign is based on a Cost Per Click (CPC) of $0.25.

Given that the cost for the campaign is entirely based on clicks, we designed our banner to try and provide the audience with all the basic information they need to understand what Audiobooks is and whether they might be interested in purchasing it. This lead to a more textual treatment than a graphical one. Since we don’t pay for impressions we only wanted truly interested people clicking on the advertisement. Our final ad looked like this:

Portrait@2x.png

 

From here you give the Apple Reps a budget and say GO. They set you up with a reporting website with real-time stats to monitor and track. The two Apple Reps I worked with were incredibly helpful and professional. While I can’t say the campaign itself went well, I can say that the actual experience of running the campaign was very well done. Compared with my experiences at AdMob and Flurry, I really appreciated this level of professionalism and attention to detail.

The Target

We chose our most successful application, Audiobooks, to be the target of the campaign. I want to eliminate any doubt that the campaign’s performance was lackluster because the app it targeted wasn’t compelling. Our audiobooks app suite has generated well over 1.6 million downloads since it was launched and has consistently been in the Top 10 Book apps for its lifetime. The app provides the user with easy access to well over 3,500 public domain audiobooks as well as a few hundred modern titles available for In-App Purchase. While it may not be an Angry Birds, it is nevertheless a highly popular app with a well established user base.

The Results

The campaign began running the evening of Thursday, August 19. The initial day of data wasn’t especially promising:

Day Spend Impressions Clicks CTR Downloads CPA
8/19 $255.00 400,991 1,020 0.25% 19 $13.42

 

From my conversations with the iAd Reps this was somewhat to be expected. They use a targeting system that requires a bit of data before it is able to predict with some accuracy who is a likely ‘converting’ impression. We then let the campaign run over the weekend (typically our best performing days of the week). The results didn’t really improve.

Day Spend Impressions Clicks CTR Downloads CPA
8/20 $258.25 449,338 1,033 0.23% 17 $15.19
8/21 $253.73 422,354 1,015 0.24% 15 $16.92
8/22 $254.00 413,144 1,016 0.25% 18 $14.11

 

At this point I was about ready to pull the plug on the whole thing but was convinced by the Apple Reps to give it a couple more days at a lower daily budget to see if their targeting algorithms could improve things with a few more days of data. That didn’t really go well.

Day Spend Impressions Clicks CTR Downloads CPA
8/23 $128.50 229,958 514 0.20% 9 $14.28
8/24 $102.25 137,144 409 0.30% 6 $17.04

 

At this point we pulled the plug, there really wasn’t any indication that this campaign would be heading to a successful place with more time. So in summary the results were:

Day Spend Impressions Clicks CTR Downloads CPA
8/19 $255.00 400,991 1,020 0.25% 19 $13.42
8/20 $258.25 449,338 1,033 0.23% 17 $15.19
8/21 $253.73 422,354 1,015 0.24% 15 $16.92
8/22 $254.00 413,144 1,016 0.25% 18 $14.11
8/23 $128.50 229,958 514 0.20% 9 $14.28
8/24 $102.25 137,144 409 0.30% 6 $17.04
Total: $1,251.75 2,052,929 5,007 0.24% 84 $14.90

 

A Quick Comparison.

Out of curiosity I decided it would be interesting to try out the same campaign banner on AdMob’s network to see how it compared with the performance of iAd. So I took $75 and the exact same banner image and did a quick blast campaign there. AdMob can’t do the nice integrated download conversion tracking that Apple can, but the impression/click data is nevertheless interesting.

Impressions Clicks CTR Cost CPC
145,093 1,944 1.34% $77.76 $0.04

AdMob is 6.25X cheaper than iAd, and surprisingly had a CTR that was 5.5X better. This surprised me given all the marketing about how Apple believed that their putting an iAd badge on their advertisements would induce a level of trust and excitement with users.

My Thoughts

The disappointing results of the campaign don’t surprise me. I have tried just about every advertising platform around and have generally found none of them to be demonstrably effective. I think that this stems from the fundamentals of why people buy apps. I believe most people buy apps based on receiving a recommendation, either directly from word-of-mouth or indirectly by their position in the Charts. There is no way to realistically replace either of these recommendation systems by throwing money at the problem. I was willing to try out iAd because it did one thing that no other platform can offer – a seamless purchase experience. The user never leaves the current app to complete the purchase, so the user experience is about as good as you get. However, I think that Apple has found itself falling foul of exactly the same problems they called out when the unveiled iAd. The ads lack engagement and emotion. Clicking on the banner just shows you a simulated App Store page. There is nothing to draw the user in. I think that this avenue might have some success if they allowed developers to create more engaging advertisements that can really showcase the app and its features, including videos, HTML5 mockups and demos.

The expense of this experiment is at least cushioned by knowing that 60% of the price went straight into the pockets of my fellow developers, so I guess I just made a $751.05 donation to the beer funds of my peers. Drink Up!


Written by David Smith. David is the Founder and Owner of Cross Forward Consulting. An App Store oriented company that makes a sustainable income from apps and app consulting.