It’s clear what makes a bad mobile ad – desktop banners scrunched down to smartphone size or disruptive interstitials with tiny, seemingly invisible Xs.
That’s the kind of thing mobile ad startup Yieldmo is on a mission to eradicate.
“We’re sitting at the intersection of ad-tech and design,” said [x+1] and Rocket Fuel vet Eric Simon, Yieldmo’s EVP and GM of operations. “The mobile industry is powered by the banner – and we’re totally against that. We build beautiful mobile ad units. That’s the vehicle that we’re using for monetization.”
Company CEO and former Quigo chief Mike Yavonditte put it a bit more colorfully: “We’re what would happen if a deeply technical company joined together with the Disney Imagineering team.”
Yieldmo, which calls itself a private mobile marketplace for premium publishers, approaches advertising from an optimization perspective. The company serves roughly 6 billion ads a month and maintains direct relationships with about 100 premier publishers, including CNN, Meredith, US Weekly, Rolling Stone, Reuters, Univision, Forbes and CBS Local.
An internal ad-format lab thinks up new mobile-specific ad templates and A/B tests the units through Yieldmo’s proprietary exchange. Yieldmo is also in the process of putting the finishing touches on an attribution solution for its clients.
“Most companies run through someone else’s exchange infrastructure,” Yavonditte said. “But you can’t create new formats without rigorous A/B testing and you can’t do rigorous testing in someone else’s exchange because you can’t isolate statistically valid controls since you don’t know where the next impression is coming from – so we built our own network.”
Yieldmo collects data on each impression down to the placement level, rather than the domain level, which is what most other exchanges do, and shares that information with its advertisers, who can also bring their own first-party data into Yieldmo’s system.
But don’t confuse Yieldmo with a DSP.
“We don’t buy ads on an exchange and we don’t use third-party data,” said Yavonditte.
“We don’t do deals with anybody where they throw our ad units in the waterfall,” Simon said. “We’re not sitting in the publisher’s ad stack. That’s lost us a few deals with publishers who gave us some pushback because they saw it as a loss of control, but it’s something that’s important to the strategic value of our company and it’s what allows our engine to do what it does best.”
A core part of Yieldmo’s value proposition comes from its ad-format lab, which is headed up by former Ideo engineer and designer David Goligorsky.
“We create ads that don’t distract people from the content they came for,” Goligorsky said. “We respect the reader, the publisher and the advertiser. We’re not interested in sticky footers or expanding content. You don’t have to degrade the experience to get performance.”
Goligorsky and his team get together every morning to share ideas and sketch out concepts for new mobile ad formats. The goal is to create an extensive library of templates that advertisers and agencies can use to support their particular key performance indicators, be they direct response, awareness, branding or consideration.
“In mobile, it really all depends on the user, where they are and what they’re doing,” Goligorsky said. “For example, a goal-oriented user might be ad blind, but someone who’s browsing might be more open to encountering ad content that supports the articles they’re reading.”
And Yieldmo’s units aren’t your everyday IAB fare.
The “wrapper” is a bit like a page takeover without the page takeover, which makes it more immersive and less distracting for the reader. It includes creative at the top and bottom of an article with colored railings along the sides surrounding the content for continuity. Another unit, dubbed the “window,” acts like a parallax. As a reader scrolls, the content moves in tandem to reveal a message. The “scroller” uses animation that advances as a user moves through an article.
Because the units are templates, it’s relatively easy for agencies to repurpose their existing ad content. With the scroller unit, for example, Yieldmo can link together frames from a YouTube video, Vine, Tumblr or other video-like collateral to create a mini narrative, almost like an in-stream GIF.
“Many of the formats use motion and fire off animations, so we have viewability baked into the system,” said Yavonditte. “In addition to everything else, we can track whether an ad comes partially or fully into a viewable window.”
Publishers can also get higher CPMs for more attractive, better-performing mobile units. One of Yieldmo’s clients, a New York newspaper, was able to sell the wrapper unit at a $20 CPM to a local advertiser.
“With traffic shifting to mobile, publisher salespeople need something they can sell with a straight face,” Yavonditte said. “Right now, there’s about a 60/40 traffic split for a lot of publishers between mobile and desktop, and the gap is only going to get wider. It’s part our strategy to go after agencies and premium brands and publishers as that continues to happen.”
One agency client already on Yieldmo’s roster is Havas. According to Rob Griffin, EVP and global head of digital at Havas Media Group, clients have seen “performance lifts right out of the gates when testing” units and placements with Yieldmo.
“[Advertisers are asking for] better mobile creative and better premium integration, [which] means better performance,” Griffin told AdExchanger. “Yieldmo can help with this by showing premium mobile content with quality mobile ads within a good user experience.”
To get more agency clients on board, Yieldmo will be hosting an agency roadshow in 2015 to display its offerings. The company, which recently closed a $10 million Series C round in October, bringing its total funding to $22.1 million, is also in the process of ramping up its hiring, looking to add more than 30 employees in the next six months. The ad format lab itself grew from one employee to four in the last three months.
“Ads are not meant for advertisers – they’re meant for the user,” Yavonditte said. “We do hardcore optimization, but we also we have a deep and rich design culture – I guess you could say we’re a content ad company. It’s a new animal.”