Gabey Goh
May 16, 2016

Mobvista gears up to capture native SEA opportunities

SINGAPORE - With consumers receptive to native mobile ads, Chinese ad platform Mobvista is making serious moves to expand its presence beyond its home market. The company’s VP of business development Yuan Xi breaks down the game plan for Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Yuan Xi
Yuan Xi

When Mobvista first started in 2013, the company specialised in helping Chinese app companies achieve user acquisition in key regional markets such as Southeast Asia, the United States and India.

Xi said the company is “privileged” to have benefited from the growing mobile market and globalisation trend in China.   

“Advertising beyond the China market was a major trend within the Internet industry in China during that time. Some big names in the industry, like Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent were our initial clients,” he added. “Through the campaign solutions provided, these clients saw our capabilities in app marketing.”

Since then, the company has diversified its clientele, now boasting an international roster of companies. And with it, a need to offer them more comprehensive and multi-channel marketing solutions.

“We’ve evolved from a business-driven company to a technology-driven company, offering our clients top-notch advertising solutions in the industry, through ensuring higher efficiency and precision, and introducing automated solutions in our marketing process,” he said.

Mobvista claims to be one of the world’s largest mobile advertising networks with 10 billion daily impressions and a user database that covers 2 billion devices.

In the Global Android Power Ranking released in 2016 by mobile analytics platform AppsFlyer, Mobvista was ranked third following Facebook and Google AdWords. In AppsFlyer’s gaming and non-gaming performance index released in April and October in 2015, Mobvista also ranked in the top three for both categories.

Mobvista's shift to a technology-driven company was demonstrated by its recent acquisition of NativeX, a US-based mobile advertising platform that offers native ad technology for mobile apps and games. The acquisition was made in February this year with an all-cash deal reported to be valued at about US$24.5 million.

“Acquiring NativeX is another key step in realising our global ad-tech vision to develop a multi-dimensional global ecosystem of mobile traffic,” said Xi. “We keep accelerating our growth through multiple aspects and I believe that keeps us different from others.”

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Going native pleases consumers

Xi believes that the environment is ripe for Mobvista’s aggressive ambitions, reporting that the response to native advertising has been positive in the region.

“End-consumers prefer native advertising to banner popups within the app, as the experience is less intrusive and follows the form of the app or even the news feeds,” he said. “We’ve received feedback from our clients that the consumer experience has been positive with native advertising, and we believe that native advertising will reign in Asia for some time.”

While advertisers will be empowered to explore their own native ad campaigns in variety of formats that will look best on their apps or web sites to connect with their audience well, the road ahead to seamless mainstream adoption remains rocky.

Xi outlined some of the challenges still prevailing in the market that the company hopes to tackle:

  • Screen size limitations of mobile devices: Due to screen space on mobile devices, the user experience of mobile ads is not as good as PC ads. That is why most advertisers use mobile advertising to encourage app downloads and user acquisitions, rather than encouraging users to perform other actions such as making a purchase or promoting a certain brand. This is because it is much easier to track the performance with app downloads than to look at the effectiveness of campaigns in creating brand awareness.
  • Lower and shorter page views: The best apps are optimised to help the user accomplish their task as quickly as possible. Ironically, this means the best apps have the lowest pageviews.This makes it tougher to sell advertising, which traditionally requires increasing pageviews and time spent on the app.
  • Difficulty in collecting data: Data within mobile applications is usually owned by the developer or a third-party statistics platform. Due to privacy policies, it is illegal or difficult for developers to share data with others. As such, information cannot be retrieved on end-user profiles and demographics. This is unlike data on PC, which can be easily retrieved through cookies. 

Claiming a bigger share of SEA

The company’s commitment to Asia is strong; it is planning to invest as much as US$100 million in its India business by 2018 to take advantage of the boom in e-commerce and ad-tech. The market currently accounts for 20 percent of the company’s total revenue.

According to Xi, the company’s aggressive move into Southeast Asia was due to the rapid growth of the region’s app market as it started to count more e-commerce and app developers from the region as customers. The region currently accounts for 10 percent of total revenue.

“To connect and serve better the needs of our Southeast Asia clients, we set up our regional headquarters in Singapore in October 2015,” he said. “The strong infrastructure and good business climate are of strong consideration for us. In less than a year, we have served more than 40 clients in the region.”

Xi shared that Mobvista’s global headcount is over 300 employees, with its Singapore staff strength at five. It plans to increase that number to 20 this year.

“We are actively looking at hiring local talents,” he said. “Southeast Asian clients we have served are all best players in related industries include Lazada, Zalora, Tokopedia, Shopee, MatahariMalls, Garena among others.”

The key markets that Mobvista tends to move forward in include Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

“The strong app economy in Southeast Asia, coupled with high smartphone penetration, have proven to offer much opportunities for us,” said Xi.

Key areas of investment for the company include strengthening the local team and looking for for the right partners. Xi said the company intends to “invest in companies who will be able to complement existing advertising services, and have synergy with Mobvista’s business operations and be aligned with business priorities.”

Mobvista is banking on the opportunities to be had in Southeast Asia, with internet companies keen to grow their user base to ensure that they stay ahead in the race.

The types of advertisers and apps differ from country to country. In India and Indonesia, e-commerce budgets account for more than 70 percent of the market-performance ads, and clients prefer the CPS (cost-per-sale) model. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, gaming and utility apps such as hotel-booking apps spend more on mobile advertising. 

“Currently, compared with the developed market, there is still room for brand mobile advertisements to grow,” said Xi. “Right now, mobile advertisements are still focused on user acquisition. Most of the brands' adspend is on TV, print and outdoors, and time is needed for brand advertisements to transition to mobile platforms.”

He added that top concerns for client centre on how to efficiently acquire users and improve ROI—with Mobvista serving its role as multi-channel mobile ad platform with user targeting based on client objectives.

“With our self-developed native ad mediation platform, we target users more precisely and thus lower the cost of user acquisition,” claimed Xi.

Funding expansion ambitions

Global ambitions require capital, and Mobvista is currently finalising a funding round of US$100 million, with more details expected to be made public soon.

The company had previously raised US$50 million in investment from China’s Shanghai Media Group, Mango TV and NetEase.

The company is currently listed on China's NEEQ (National Equities Exchange and Quotations, often referred to as the Nasdaq of China). It claims profitability and reported revenues of US$200 million in 2015.

In addition to its expansion in Southeast Asia, Europe and other key markets, along with beefing up local talent strength, the financing will be allocated toward product and technology capability improvements.

“We will also be using the capital to acquire valuable resources and invest in companies that are complementary and well-aligned to our core business,” said XI. “Similar to how we have acquired Native X.”


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