You have to make ads more likeable: Abhay Singhal

Homegrown advertising technology firm, InMobi, debuted its new ad delivery platform called Miip in Silicon Valley in mid-July. The platform, which delivers context-rich ads to mobile app users guaranteeing higher returns to advertisers, will put the Bengaluru-based start-up in direct competition with Facebook and Google. Before its launch in India next week, InMobi co-founder and chief revenue officer Abhay Singhal speaks to Surabhi Agarwal. Edited excerpts:

What is the big idea behind Miip?

It started with a simple thought. Advertising is a $700-800 billion industry worldwide, and users don’t like ads, and there is a discontinuity in this statement. The only way advertisers are winning the war against users dislike towards ads is by showing them more ads. Somebody had to say that you have to make the ads more likeable. The core job of advertising was to make users discover the content, not be told that there is a sale everyday. So you need to tell a story, you have to engage consumers where they feel excited. What are Pinterest and Facebook? They are nothing but sites full of ads, but users don’t look at them and say I hate ads, I hate Facebook. So there is a different way of looking at advertising, which we call Miip. Hopefully, we can disrupt the industry where advertising is looked at as commercial content.

How will you go about creating such content?

If you look at e-commerce advertising, it is all about being cheaper, cheaper and cheaper. But e-commerce firms are also about great products, selection and service, so we are going to them and saying don’t just put ads saying that the product is 70 per cent cheaper, instead they should make users discover the products. As long as you can make advertising one-on-one, you won’t have to worry about talking in one common message. The promise of mobile devices is that it is a one-on-one device, unlike a TV or a print medium. In that case, you have to dumb down the message to the lowest common denominator because you don’t know who is reading it. There are close to 128 data signals that we get on the basis of the devices that we use, and we use those in combination with the first party data signals to target the ad properly.

Why did inMobi, an Indian company, launch in the US first?

We didn’t want to go to the US first, we wanted to launch here first. Somehow I feel that the reception of Indian users is more for a product that is American, than for a product that is Indian. We could have launched simultaneously in all countries, but because the event was in San Francisco, it has gathered more attention than it would have if I had launched elsewhere. I am being very frank. That’s how the fascination of this country is. It is wrong, that’s not how it should be… Rather than build a fascination towards the West, we should be building a fascination towards countries like Indonesia and China because they are much similar and as big a market as America is. So as Indians we should start to recognise our own strengths.

What has been the response to the product so far and how do make money from it?

We have about 10 partners and 5,000 different applications are using it. We have been at it for two years and we piloted it with 100 partners around the world six months ago. In the India event, we have 10 partners of ours, such as ecommerce, home services, grocery, entertainment, booking services etc who will be talking about it on August 5. The revenue split is very simple, it’s the standard revenue model we have. For every Rs 100 that the advertiser pays me, I keep Rs 40 and give Rs 60 to the publisher. And we are launching in China on August 18. The rest of the markets will pick it up on their own. We officially launched in these three countries because they are the largest markets in the world. We will look back at it after a few years and say that it was a watershed moment.

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