Rebecca Castellani

By Rebecca Castellani

In the world of mobile ad networks, Facebook and Google (aka The Duopoly) are uncontested titans, but as 2020 continues to change user demand and challenge the fundamental structure of many verticals, a number of rivals have emerged to threaten this reign.

Changing the game

“With the overall app economy growing, more apps are reaching maturity,” reflects growth consultant Thomas Petit for Adjust’s 2020 Report on App Trends. “For those, there is more reason to diversify their partnership portfolio and reduce dependency on the major advertising players."

Data certainly supports Petit’s claim. Adjust found advertisers increased their number of networks by 19% in 2019, revealing “a consistency of experimentation and iteration across verticals...” Entertainment apps incorporated more ad networks than any other sector — music experienced a 36% increase, video 32% — while in gaming, data revealed marketers of mid-core games were more experimental and expansive than their contemporaries in casual. Only marketplace apps resisted diversification, “with a stunted 1% increase in channel use.”

The competition heats up

Singular’s 2020 Index detailing the best return on investment (ROI) for global ad networks “shows something astonishing.” Facebook and Google continue to dominate reach and spend, but across all sectors and regions “some of the best returns are from some of the smaller media sources.” Singular identifies these networks as “core competitors” to the “default platforms.” Here are the top three worth your attention:

  • Apple Search Ads—Declared a “must-have ad partner” by Singular, Apple Search Ads is undoubtedly the most pressing threat to The Duopoly when it comes to iOS users. Adjust reports Apple Search Ads increased by 32% in 2019 and achieved between 6-9 million monthly installs.
  • SnapSnapChat Ads experienced a 27% increase in 2019, but if you’ve been hesitant to experiment with the network, you’re in luck; in June 2020, SnapChat unveiled Snap Focus, a six-course module to “help advertisers and agencies master our platform and stay on top of everything Snapchat advertising has to offer.”
  • Unity Ads—A leader in integrated video ads, Unity has a reputation for engaging and lucrative advertising — especially in mobile gaming. According to VentureBeat, “Unity powers 50% of mobile games on the planet. It uses that distribution to serve over 10 billion ads a month...”

Honorable mentions include ironSource, an app specializing in monetization technologies for gaming, and mobile advertising company Vungle.

TikTok, newcomer on the rise

Singular also recognizes more “niche contenders” like Molocco and Aaraki for their significant ROI, but none so impressive as stratospheric newcomer TikTok. “TikTok had 614 million downloads in a single year, and it saw ad spending grow 75 times from May 2019 to November 2019,” writes Dean Takahashi for VentureBeat. Adjust, too, declares TikTok “the surprise hit of 2019” with over 2.5 million installs in December 2019 alone: “TikTok, is one of the few apps to see a viral surge in use, and is sure to see spend increase to match. Already, data shows smaller studios and indie gaming developers are flocking to the platform. A massive 88% of installs on TikTok chalked up in December 2019 came from small game publishers…”

Mobile marketers should be especially excited about TikTok given the extensive time users spend in the app. Singular reports, “The average users spend over 50 minutes daily in TikTok. [...] That means the platform is capturing a massive share of its users’ time and isn’t just piling up vanity download metrics. And it means that the monetization possibility here is huge.”

An experimental future

On the endless quest to acquire new users, app marketers across verticals are experimenting with ad networks, and reaping the rewards. Marketers may experience a learning curve when diversifying ad platforms, but with some of the most impressive ROI coming from smaller networks and powerful newcomers primed to usurp Facebook and Google (or at least be a thorn in their sides), those new skills are a worthy acquisition. So go ahead, pick a platform, experiment — you might just be backing the next big thing!