Kids – they love apps, they’re highly engaged, they’ve got no money and you’re not allowed to collect their data.
But targeting and mobile monetization aren’t an impossible dream for kid content developers and publishers, said Dylan Collins, CEO of SuperAwesome, a UK-based ad network specifically designed with COPPA compliance in mind.
On Wednesday, the 2-year-old company, whose clients are a who’s who of more than 150 kid-centric brands – Hasbro, Disney and Nintendo top the list – announced a partnership with user acquisition and monetization platform Bee7 to give advertisers access to more kid-safe inventory while letting publishers tap into a revenue stream that won’t alienate parents.
Because data collection is verboten in the world of children’s advertising, SuperAwesome, which touches more than 200 million active teen and pre-teen users each month, takes a very un-ad-tech-like approach to ad tech.
“COPPA and incoming EU legislation that will be pretty much identical to the restrictions under COPPA make any behavioral-based advertising illegal and there are big fines being handed out,” Collins told AdExchanger. “We had to build our entire stack from scratch to meet those requirements in a way that also allows advertisers and content publishers to operate within a framework they still vaguely recognize while being safe and appropriate for kids. That’s the reasoning and the logic behind working with Bee7.”
Rather than rely on targeting, which it can’t do, SuperAwesome operates by making contextual placements. If a user is on a page or within an app about superheroes, for example, that person might see an ad about Batman.
Bee7 extends that capability by creating a kind of CPI-based re-engagement Moebius strip. It works like this: Users within a kid-safe app, say Talking Tom, are prompted to install another kid-safe app like Swamp Attack. If they download Swamp Attack and spend a certain amount of time in it, they’re given a reward within Talking Tom. Users can do this multiple times.
SuperAwesome vets its publisher and ad partners thoroughly to make sure all the content is appropriate and that the ad mechanics aren’t in breach. It takes a lot of testing.
“We spend a lot of time in consultation with clients, because it’s not just about the technology – it’s also about the creative standards and the messaging, what we can and can’t say in different countries. Religion is a big one, for example,” Collins said. “We’ve got extremely specialized people in countries around the world.”
In addition to its headquarters in London, SuperAwesome has offices in Sydney, a new spot in New York and an office in Bangkok, which it uses as a base of operations for Southeast Asia. The Asian market represents a budding opportunity, Collins said.
“We decided to go into Southeast Asia early on, even though most Western startups don’t go East that quickly,” he said. “We want to be ahead of where the legislation is going and establish a kid-safe advertising platform there.”
When SuperAwesome first launched, “everyone thought we were nuts,” Collins said. “‘Mobile advertising is a highly gray area for kids.’ ‘It’s too difficult a sector,’ they said. Now people are realizing that we actually can deploy ad campaigns on mobile and do it in a way that’s engaging, fun and compliant.”
SuperAwesome also maintains an internal research division that puts out quarterly reports with information gathered from panels comprised of kids of various ages who participate with parental permission, of course. The research team tracks YouTube activity, what games kids are playing and engagement levels around particular ad units. The information is used to track macro trends.
“It enables us to optimize our contextual targeting so we know where to place ads,” said Josh Wöhle, chief product officer at SuperAwesome. “Clients can also use that data to research new product ideas.”
The market demand is there – SuperAwesome has run plum campaigns for top brands, including an international campaign for Paramount around the newly released "Spongebob" movie – but ad budgets in kid-related industries are still mostly tied up in TV.
“If you look at the TV ad market for kids in the US and the UK, it’s about $14 billion a year, roughly – and digital ad spend in online display and mobile is only about $700 million a year,” Collins said. “The primary reason for that is because very little VC money went into the kid-specific ad-tech market. Clearly that serves our agenda, but from a general publisher perspective, more support and more monetization opportunities are really important.”
Because it’s not just about the big brands. Take WildWorks, creator of the wildly popular kids game "Animal Jam", for example. While "Animal Jam" doesn’t include advertising within its game experience, it is in the process of incorporating SuperAwesome ads on Animal Jam Daily Explorer, the game’s official blog.
“Most small developers can’t risk investing serious money and resources in a premium app that parents won’t buy due to the absence of a big brand name – but most free-to-play monetization options are filled with ethical and practical obstacles if applied to an audience of children,” said WildWorks CEO Clark Stacey. “But there’s a promising opportunity for networks like SuperAwesome to concentrate on appropriate, COPPA-compliant advertising as a way for developers to monetize apps for kids. This will lead to more investment in those apps, higher quality and a more diverse ecosystem of developers.”