Mobile banner ads – anyone who’s used the free version of a mobile app has seen them. To most of us, they’re simply a part of life, like commercials, billboards or those giant posters at airports. For marketers, however, figuring out how to promote a product or service through these ever-present banners is like finding a place to buy a jet pack. You know they exist, but you really have no idea where to get one until you’re actually in the market.

Prominent tech sites offer helpful articles about how to design your ads to optimize for conversions, while notable bloggers provide resources for analyzing mobile market trends and global targeting. But, it seems the Internet forgot to tell us how to actually acquire ad space in the mobile marketing arena.

So, where do you start? Well, right here.

Next time you’re using an app with banner ads, pay attention to the details. Ad networks will often place their own brands somewhere in the ads they serve up. Usually found in the corner, and often represented by plain text or a logo, these small nuggets of gold are your ticket in. Once you start looking for them, they pop up everywhere.

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The next step is to do what we do best: Google them. Find out what iAd and AdChoices are. The more ads you pay attention to, the more ad networks you’ll start to notice, and you’ll be able to start putting together a picture of what these ad networks look like. Once you know who they are, it’s a matter of contacting them to learn how they work.

Think of ad networks like toddlers: they all have several similar defining characteristics, but each has its own distinct personality and way of doing things. You have to spend time interacting with one to know how it works.

At this point in the game, it’s crucial that you know your purpose:

  • Who is your target audience? What kind of apps do they use?
  • What action do you want people to take when they see your ad?
  • How do you want to portray your product or service?

The answers will help you ascertain the kind of ad network you need and a realistic budget for meeting your goals.

Some ad networks run your campaign for you and just ask that you pay up when the needle starts moving. Other networks provide a platform upon which you have complete freedom to construct your campaign. Some ask you to provide the image for the banner, while others offer a service where they build expandable, rich content-filled, interactive advertising experiences. It may help to put together a table of what you’re looking for, and call around to see which network best fits the profile.

Say you’re looking for a network that runs on a CPA (Cost-Per-Action) payment model – the other options are CPC for Cost-Per-Click and CPM for Cost-Per-Thousand – lets you manage your own campaign, runs ads on all platforms, and offers expandable banners with rich content. You may put together a chart that looks like this:

We see here that GreyStripe by ValueClick would be the best choice for this type of mobile advertising campaign. Again, it all depends on what you are marketing. If you’re promoting an app, for instance, that is only available on Apple devices and you’re not up to the task of managing your campaign daily, you’ll probably want to go with Apple’s iAd network.

Now, it comes down to making the call. Find a handful of ad networks that you think may work for you, contact them, and ask them the big questions:

  • What pricing options do you offer? (CPC / CPA / CPM)
  • Which platforms do you support? (iAd is really cool, but their ads only appear on Apple devices.)
  • Which banner formats are available? (static, expandable, interactive, etc.)
  • What reporting options are there? (You’ll want to keep track of how your ads are performing.)
  • Who will manage my campaign?
  • What locations do you service? (Most networks are exclusive to their home country. This may not apply if you are looking for local marketing)

Once you have a good picture of each candidate, describe exactly what you’d like out of their service, and ask for an RFP (Request-For-Proposal). This gets the ball rolling. Once you know what they offer, and they know what you want, the proposal will put both parties on the same page. Negotiate your rates and seal the deal.

Once you reach that point, give yourself a pat on the back – you’ve officially purchased some ad space for your awesome product. Congratulations. We look forward to seeing your ad on our mobile device of choice…