Reports surfacing in late 2014 suggested that banner viewability on mobile was under 27 percent. Out of those, 86 percent are simply ignored, because the user's brains tune them out. Another report suggested that over 60 percent of the clicks on mobile banners are accidental. Imagine the wasted resources behind that! Now, when you put your marketer's cap on, you will realise that the banner does not even give you enough real estate or creative flexibility to tell your brand story. Plus, you're putting your brand's burgeoning message in a box that is not only criminal to your cause, but also something that consumers detest so much that they're installing ad blockers. It was thus time to bring a paradigm shift in the mobile ad space, decided "Madmen" Lavin Punjabi, Vishal Rupani, and Nikunj Soni.
Lavin and Vishal, and Nikunj, all in their thirties, were coworkers and buddies at Directi's Skenzo. And when Lavin left Directi to setup Affinity as an advertising network in 2006, Vishal and Nikunj didn't hesitate to trust his vision, and got on board, and are now part of the leadership team at Affinity. The three have thus been working together for over eight years, dealing with the daily ups and downs of the adtech business, and have established a Domain Parking network, PPC Network and a Display network.
In 2014, they studied the alarming statistics about the engagement of banner ads, and put their heads together once again to address the mobile ad monetisation problem for their publisher clients. Upon reviewing the state of the industry, they learnt that the biggest source of revenue was banners, but our senses and sensibilities have been numbed to these intrusive presences.
"That was our cue. We wanted to make mobile ads the way millennials would like them. Let's create 'storytelling ads for millennials,'" says Lavin. That's how we began our journey. And when they decided to fill this gap in the mobile advertising space, their investors were kind enough to infuse more capital to fund this idea, saving them a lot of time in getting it up and running under the umbrella of Affinity.
Coining the name MCanvas for this brand new entity, the platform empowers brands to tell more effective stories. Creating ads on the form of non-intrusive "fun-sized" pop-ups, these race onto your screen, prompt you to tap them, and hold instructions that can be carried out through mobile sensors (motion, touch, location, compass, etc.) and features (haptic, camera, microphone, calendar, etc.).
For example, for one of India's leading jewellery brands, their in-house creative studio created an augmented reality ad. Users were encouraged to take a selfie and drag and drop various nose pins on the selfie to understand how they would each look. One could even share the selfie on social media to get their friend's opinions. "Compare all of this with a static traditional banner that the brand would otherwise use and users would ignore or accidentally click on," Lavin notes.
Now creating the ads is one thing, but where will these ads show up? For that, Mcavas partnered up with the largest names in content publishing in the country - The Times group, The Hindu, India Today, specialty websites like SanjeevKapoor, MomJunction, StyleCraze and a few others. Mcanvas pays the publishers a revenue share of what the advertisers pay them.
"Now technically, that would make us a network. We used this business model to start and prove that the business adds value to the ecosystem. In the next six months, we aim to become an open exchange (for rich storytelling ads), facilitating transactions between advertisers and publishers with complete transparency on pricing," says Lavin, clarifying.
Advertisers typically pay in CPM - Cost Per 1,000 impressions, or CPC - Cost Per Click. But, Lavin feels that these models are flawed. "Paying on CPM means that 73 percent of your budget is paid for banners, which are not viewable. Paying on CPC means that 60 percent of your budget is wasted on accidental clicks. To solve this problem, we created a new metric called Cost Per Engagement, where the advertiser only pays when we engage a user on mobile for over three seconds," he explains.
They started out officially in October 2014 by building all the relevant pieces of tech – until they grappled with a crucial decision: building for mobile web or mobile apps. At that time mobile app was huge and most ad budgets were allocated to mobile app. "We knew that the best environment for our storytelling ads was on article pages. But, most article pages were on mobile web. We decided to put our bets on mobile web and built our tech around that," he says.
In the first month, they ran dummy campaigns for brands and paid the publisher partners out of their own funds. The first few campaigns set the foundation and answered the fundamental question about its engagement power - for engage, they did! 57x higher than standard mobile banner ads, claims Lavin.
They now sold their concept to a few brands and agencies, shipped a 'quick and dirty' piece of code to publish a pilot with the content partners by January 2015.
By February 2015, they got their first paid campaign. There on out, it's been a constant improvement cycle on the product - from targeting, cross device compatibility, sensor integrations into creatives, responsive ads, UX. "Big data analytics kept feeding us answers to what consumers wanted," he explains.
"It's an enormous task to get a Rs 1,500-crore market to take note that one of the biggest spends has some holes in it. But we're fortunate that we have been able to speak to decision makers at various brands and sway their opinions," he explains.
A milestone in their journey was getting telecom major Idea on board, just a year after they started. They came up with the idea of incorporating a live slot game into the ad, allowing users to win and share data packages. The campaign delivered stunning results and also helped the brand win an award.
They now reach out to over 60 million connected, mobile content-consuming Indians. And from selling one lakh engagements in the first quarter, they are now in their eighth quarter selling over a 10 lakh. Consumers have rated their ads 4/5 on an average, and have been spending between 10 to 30 seconds on them.
By the end of this year, they will have clocked Rs 5 crore in total sales revenue.
The market size in India is Rs 1500 crore, and is expected to grow to Rs 9,500 crore by 2020. They are benchmarking themselves against international names like Celtra, Kargo and Opera MediaWorks.
Plans to scale up include enabling the programmatic buying and selling of this inventory via their own marketplace. And on the supply side, the team intends to give the publishers access to a marketplace, which allows them to control pricing and the ads that show up on their sites.
Apart from that, they have signed a partnership with IAS media in Dubai, which will take their business to the GCC market.