Google AdMob: A Performance Marketer’s Opinion

admob-logoI admit it – I don’t know enough about mobile advertising for someone in my position. In fact, beyond Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter’s mobile search ad offerings, I’m practically clueless. But I’m trying hard to wrap my head around all of it, and I think I’m making some really good progress on that front.

Today my quest for mobile wisdom lead me to Google’s famous AdMob network. I figured the best way to understand any ad channel is to dive right in, so I created an account and got to work immediately on my first campaign.

What is AdMob?

AdMob is a giant ad network that focuses only on mobile advertising. It was founded in 2006 and then acquired by Google in 2009 for $750 million.

Getting started on AdMob isn’t particularly expensive. You have top up your account with at least $50, and everything needs to be prepaid (i.e., you deposit money in your account using Google Checkout, ads run, when your account is depleted, you have to explicitly refill it).

Google specifies that you may set an alert to warn you funds are running low. I find this a little odd and tell myself there must be a good reason for this. I was right.

I continue the process – as is the case with adCenter and AdWords, campaigns are there to manage budgets and settings – start and end date and delivery options (accelerated or standard). But that’s all there is for campaigns. I save my campaign.

I move on to ad group, where I’m presented with four choices:

  • Website: Drive traffic to your website 
  • Application: Drive downloads of your app for iOS, Android, or Windows Phone 7 
  • Media: Promote a video, Kindle book, or iTunes Store listing (music, TV, movies) 
  • Location and Utilities:Promote a local business with click-to-call and click-to-maps

I choose to build an ad group to drive traffic to my website. This is where it becomes more apparent that this product will probably never work for me, or for anyone trying to deliver performance marketing campaigns. The only form of targeting that I can rely on to find the right people to deliver my message are the following:

  • Target Devices 
  • Target Geography: Not very impressive. I thought mobile ads would have so much more granularity. In Canada, Province level is a granular as it gets. In the US, one level down from the State AdMob offers “Regions”. Definitely nothing as “accurate” as city level targeting here. And most definitely I am unable to trigger ads only for those people who are close to a specific store location for example. I don’t know why I have this vision in mind of proper mobile campaigns being hyper local, the way it is for mobile search for example. But AdMob clearly doesn’t deliver this kind of accuracy for targeting. Not even close. 
  • Target Wi-Fi vs mobile operator traffic 
  • Target Demographics: Men vs Women and Age Group are the only criteria available.

That’s it. As you can see, there is no way to map your ad to any specific kinds of content or lists of desired websites, there is no way to add categories of interest or to bring or buy data to help guide decisions on what to buy.

I thought for sure I must have picked the wrong type of ad group so I went back and created a Location and Utilities ad group with click to call – targeting was the same. Nothing changed no matter what kind of ad group I tried building.

It became clear to me this product is for brand marketers only. Turns out I was right.

As my amazement turned to curiosity, I went back to the Google site and through a few hops I finally found this page which clearly identifies AdMob as a product targeted for brand advertisers. I wish I had seen this before, but in a strange way, I now feel a little more enlightened about the mobile advertising space, and I got to spare some of you the grief of going through the same thing.

The Bottom Line for Performance Marketers

Unless your products are extremely broad appeal, or you’re selling mobile download bale goods such as apps, books, music or video, let me save you some time, frustration and money: there is no apparent way to leverage AdMob effectively for performance marketing.

AdMob is aimed squarely at brand advertisers looking to drive engagement on general interest items that require practically no targeting at all. Further, it does not appear to allow advertisers to buy ads in real time using data, the way we do with RTB display today.

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