Mobile Disrupted: SessionM’s Lars Albright on Rewarding Users for Ad Engagement

October 18, 2012 Alex Kantrowitz

Mobile ads have been a hot topic of discussion in the ad tech space for a while now, but with little consensus on how they should be monetized. Banner ads are simply not getting the job done, causing the industry to rethink their approach to mobile and find creative ways to increase revenue through this channel.  Operative recently sat down with SessionM CEO, Lars Albright, who believes the solution lies in a more engaged mobile experience. Here is what he had to say…

The recent Pew finding that over fifty percent of Americans own smartphones likely caused many digital revenue teams to break out in a cold sweat. Mobile is a growing and powerful mode of content consumption, yet publishers’ difficulties in monetizing the medium must be concerning as mobile continues to rise.

Fixing the mobile monetization problem may require rethinking today’s concept of the mobile ad. While the mobile banner will likely never go away, reliance on it alone will not be enough for publishers looking to capitalize on the opportunity of this rising medium.

Interested in learning more about ways in which the status quo may be disrupted, The Op-Ed sat down with SessionM CEO Lars Albright to chat about his approach to solving the problem. To Albright, the solution begins with creating a more engaging mobile ad experience, something he’s been working on since his departure from Apple’s iAds division.

Albright’s relatively new company, SessionM, has developed an ad environment with engagement in mind. The company’s ads come in the form of polls, games and videos, and look nothing like the tiny and often missable mobile ads of today.

Users’ first engagement with SessionM begins as they earn rewards for visiting participating publishers’ sites or apps. Actions such as repeat visits or reads are rewarded with points which site visitors can redeem for real world swag. The goal, according to Albright, is to “help publishers and developers retain their users and get them coming back every day.”

Publishers in that ecosystem can then plug into SessionM’s ad network. SessionM’s ads overlay publisher content, and are often tied to rewards baked into SessionM’s overall reward experience.

Explaining the approach, Albright said: “We believe that you really need to be thinking of ways to connect with the consumer that’s not just ‘Hey, here’s a banner, we hope you click on it, and when you click on it you’re going to get some more marketing messages and we hope it’s so well targeted that is makes sense for you.’”

Instead, SessionM has found that users are much more receptive to the message of the ad when there’s a reward attached to their engagement with it. In such situations, Albright said, SessionM sees that between 75% and 85% percent of people chose to interact with the ads and 95% complete the ad experience.

It is, in Albright’s opinion, one way to bring more money into the mobile ad world. “The growth in mobile is explosive, the time spent in mobile is going through the roof, but mobile advertising continues to chug along,” he said. “We’re taking a play on making the ad experience truly effective, more consumer-centric, more value oriented.” That, he hopes, will give advertisers more reason to spend money on mobile.

Publishers working with SessionM agree to a revenue share for ads sold by SessionM’s sales team. The share means SessionM gets a cut of revenue, but, according to Albright the ad space is doesn’t interfere with publisher inventory counts since it’s overlaid on users’ mobile devices.

Publishers may not initially warm up to the idea of cutting a chunk of their mobile ad revenue to a third party, but Albright argues that the value his company provides is worth it. If SessionM can continue to deliver an ad experience users care about and want to engage with, then advertisers just might begin to feel more comfortable with mobile, something that would help the whole industry.

Reprinted from Operative's The Op-Ed with permission.

OPS The age of multi-screen is upon us. Whether you're interested in mobile, tablet, IPTV, goggles, or other enabled devices, learn cutting edge techniques and best practices from industry leaders and get involved in discussions with expert panelists only at AdMonsters Screens, Nov. 19 in London.

Alex Kantrowitz covers marketing and advertising technology for Ad Age. His work has previously appeared in Fortune, Forbes, BuzzFeed and the Ithaca Journal. 

Rocket Fuel