Mobile user acquisition and CTV: the 4 biggest obstacles

By John Koetsier April 10, 2023

Most mobile marketers are interested in running ads for their apps on CTV. In fact, in our recent CTV-focused webinar, 45% of mobile marketers said they were already running user acquisition CTV campaigns. Another 47% said they weren’t yet but wanted to. You don’t have to know much calculus or trigonometry to infer that 92% of the marketers we asked are deeply interested in CTV ads for mobile UA, while only 8% are not.

So what are the biggest blockers for the 47% who want to run UA on CTV, but haven’t?

CTV campaigns

Cracking the code on CTV: the experts

Our recent webinar included experts from InnoGames, tvScientific, M&C Saatchi, and Moloco sharing details on the growth of CTV and how mobile marketers are using connected TV advertising to grow their apps. They are:

  • Bridget Hall
    Group Account Director at M&C Saatchi
  • Jake Richardson
    Head of CTV Strategy and Partnerships at Moloco
  • Ashley Parducci
    VP Client Success at tvScientific
  • Sidra Sattar
    Senior Marketing Manager at InnoGames
  • Evyatar Ram
    VP Product at Singular

One of the first questions we asked the hundreds of attendees: what are your core challenges with running mobile user acquisition on CTV? Here are the four answers they gave:

  1. Measuring results accurately
  2. Understanding enough about the space
  3. Finding the right partner
  4. Finding the right creative
obstacles running CTV campaigns

Clearly and unsurprisingly, measurement is the biggest challenge for CTV and user acquisition campaigns. But a second and also major factor is simply acquiring a level of understanding about the space. 

Let’s look at each one in detail …

Measurement: measuring CTV-assisted user acquisition is hard

CTV is inherently difficult to measure because it’s typically cross-device, says Singular’s Evyatar Ram: the ad is on the big screen, the app you install is on the little one.

Most people are aware of that — and aware that CTV attribution is typically probabilistic based on IP addresses — but most aren’t aware that there’s a major difference between the user journey via mobile app ads on mobile and mobile app ads on CTV.

“I think the second challenge is that oftentimes the CTV touchpoint … will not be the last touchpoint that that user went through,” Ram says. “It’s very typical that you see the ad on your TV and then you go to your phone and you probably search for it and it’s pretty likely that … you’ll actually interact with another ad on the way to that install.”

So last-click or last touch measurement isn’t necessarily going to accurately reflect the value of a mobile app publisher’s ads on a streaming service, meaning more sophisticated measurement is required.

Understanding: learning a whole new universe is hard

Mobile marketers are used to change, used to acronyms, and used to needing to re-learn their entire jobs 10% at a time pretty much all the time. But CTV is a whole new universe.

There’s CTV, there’s streaming, there’s SVOD, there’s AVOD, there’s TVOD, OTT, and that’s just the beginning. 

To make it worse, it’s not always simple: what’s a streaming service versus a channel versus a platform? What’s hardware? Which are software? And which are two or all of the above all at once? Another major change: mobile marketing has calcified around just two global mobile operating systems, and just two global app stores. (That could be about to change, thanks to the Digital Markets Act.) CTV has many platforms, many players, and complex interactions.

Here’s just one market map of the space, with scores of logos:

OTT ecosystem

Ad load is different too: from pretty heavy in mobile apps to pretty light — a few slots an hour — on CTV and streaming.

Buying follows some familiar models, but is also not identical.

“There are really two main ways of buying CTV inventory,” says M&C Saatchi’s Bridget Hall. “Programmatic is a more automated approach … Roku, Amazon Fire TV, they will have a bucket of their inventory that is offered on an open exchange and then they might have other premium placements that you can only transact or buy from if you’re working with them direct.”

In general, programmatic is good and helps you focus more on audience discovery, Hall says, while direct only targets a very specific audience (though it might offer better first-party data). Targeting is very different: with geographical data on subscribers, “when you go to CTV, if you really wanted, you could buy one household,” says Moloco’s Jake Richardson. 

Also new: spend requirements.

Some experts recommend a minimum $25,000 monthly spend, which puts CTV advertising in the hands of only a few very massive mobile publishers. Others say you can start with a more modest budget to test the waters and check for incrementality.

Right partner: doing user acquisition on CTV requires good advice

Finding the right partners is always a challenge.

“We have existing partnerships … we are going to talk to them first,” says InnoGames Sidra Sattar. “And they are always the partners that approach us first whenever there’s something that’s coming down the line, a first to market, first to test when it comes to alphas and betas. That is a great place to jump in.”

If you don’t have partners that specialize in CTV, the partners on this webinar including M&C Saatchi, Moloco, and tvScientific are a good place to start.

The best partners, as always, start with the client’s needs, not their own capabilities.

“Where I always start with a client is to understand what the goal is and that can take some time,” says tvScientific’s Ashley Parducci. “It might start as a performance goal but then it turns out it’s actually an incrementality goal.”

Right creative: always hard

Of course, finding the right creative is not just a challenge for CTV-focused user acquisition campaigns. It’s hard in any ad campaign. But CTV creative and mobile app creative don’t often mix well.

Ad formats are all video, of course, but range in length from 15 seconds to 30 seconds to even longer. And it’s not clear your videos from in-app video ads will play well here.

“Think big screen,” says Sattar. “If you are a mobile-first advertiser, what you’re doing on mobile ads may not translate.”

One funky oddity about QR codes, which have been kind-of-a-thing-while-not-a-thing since Coinbase’s Super Bowl commercial that was “so popular it crashed the app” …

  1. They don’t work
  2. They work

Moloco’s Jake Richardson explains:

“QR codes definitely work, but if you treat them as a clickthrough, they do not work because the studies have shown it’s less than 0.5% of people who actually get their phone out on time, scan the QR code, and get to the website … but for some reason, strangely, if you treat it as a view through attribution, a QR code increases engagement: people see the ad and they think, ‘Oh, interesting. This is a legitimate company. They’ve got a site that I can land on. I’ll go search for it. I may not use the QR code. I’ll go search for it.’ And that increases engagement with your brand.”

In other words, they don’t work for direct marketing or performance marketing, in a sense, but they do work for brand.

But if you don’t measure them in the right way, you’ll never know it.

Of course … much more in the full webinar

While the survey we mentioned off the top that indicates over 90% of mobile marketers are doing or interested in doing CTV ads is clearly not a representative sample — it was a webinar, after all, about CTV — it’s yet another example of a groundswell of interest in CTV ads.

89% of households are currently active streamers, Hall says. And that’s growing year over year. Ad spend is also up: about 27% annually.

That translates to opportunity, but you have to know how to access it.
Check out the full Cracking the Code on CTV webinar.

Stay up to date on the latest happenings in digital marketing

Simply send us your email and you’re in! We promise not to spam you.