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A Complete Guide to Programmatic App Install Campaigns

If you have ever considered online advertising for your business, you probably have heard many chanting the advantages of programmatic media buying. And the reality is that it’s quite promising and exciting. 

In the US alone, US$70 billion is spent on programmatic digital advertising. That’s nearly 30% of all ad spends. It’s a game-changer and can have a profound impact on optimizing your digital advertising budgets.

For app marketers, programmatic app campaigns are a dream come true. For instance, imagine you’re marketing an app for teenagers using print media and website banner ads. 

If so, how sure can you be about the number of teenagers who installed the application, or let alone, about the number of users who will retain for more than a week? Probably not much.

Getting users to install an app alone won’t do the trick. Instead, they must be of higher lifetime value exhibiting stronger engagement and retention rates. If you wish to find such high-quality users that’s something programmatic advertising is good at.

Before we get talking about the app install campaigns, let us first understand about programmatic advertising?” 

Here’s everything you need to know to get started.

What Is Programmatic Media Buying?

Programmatic media buying is the coolest kid in the block. In short, it’s the use of automated technology for media buying – which is the process of buying digital advertising space (aka ad inventory) on websites and apps.

The difference between the traditional methods and programmatic is that the former is often performed manually, whereas the other is done in real-time using an automated bidding system.

The benefits of programmatic buying are immense. You get to utilize data insights and algorithms to serve advertisements to the right audience at the right time, and more importantly, at the right price.

From the audience’s perspective, traditionally-purchased and programmatically-purchased ads will all look the same. It’s just that marketers will have better means to serve highly-targeted ads.

To put that in perspective, imagine what a standard car and a self-driving car with tinted windows will look like for a pedestrian. The driver will know the difference, but the pedestrian wouldn’t notice a thing.

As previously mentioned, marketers can’t rely on just app install figures as key performance indicators (KPI) in an app marketing campaign. Engagement and retention rates, customer lifetime value (CLV) and numerous post-install metrics such as social sharing are critical qualitative factors.

The problem with traditional media buying is that you probably negotiate with website owners, just like you do for outdoor hoardings except for the fact that you can decide upon the timings. But just like advertising on hoarding boards, you’ll have zero control over the type of audience who sees your app install ad when you buy ad spaces traditionally.

offline outdoor hoarding

An offline outdoor hoarding. Image Credit:

Additionally, if you follow the traditional method of ad space buying, the information you get from the website owners about the audience will be quite nominal. So, if your target audience is teenagers living in the US, there are no means to conclude that the ads are displayed only in the US, or let alone to teenagers.

The ads may also be served to both desktop and mobile audiences. If that’s the case, when was the last time you installed an app by seeing an advert on a website using a desktop? Probably never.

Programmatic advertising is a life-saver in such instances. You can choose the audience based on numerous attributes such as,

  • Demographics
  • Interests
  • Geographical location
  • Device type
  • Time of the day
  • Weather conditions

In short, programmatic technology can enable you to serve ads to highly-specific audiences and significantly reduce the wastage of resources in the process. Programmatic also makes contextual and behavioural targeting a piece of cake – which is something traditional buying methods can never dream of.

Since the technology is driven by algorithms, advertisers can access and bid for the ideal inventory at multiple ad exchanges (digital marketplaces to buy ad spaces) at once.

Before going any further, there are some crucial terms you need to be aware of. The advertiser, who advertises their product or service, is also known as the buyer. Similarly, the publisher, who publishes the ads on their website or app, is also known as the seller.

Then there are the Demand Side Platforms (DSPs). It’s a type of software that allows buyers to buy and manage ad inventory from multiple sources using a single interface. For example, if you’re buying ads using Facebook Ads Manager and Google Ads, you can purchase, manage, and analyze ads across all these networks using a single DSP.

Similarly, there are Supply Side Platforms (SSPs). It’s a platform that allows sellers to sell, manage and optimize their ad inventories through automation. They connect with ad exchanges, ad networks, and DSPs on behalf of the publisher to sell ad inventory.


Image Credit:

DSPs and SSPs together make programmatic advertising possible. To effectively run programmatic app campaigns, you need to utilise a DSP. 

Getting back to a previous point, serving app install ads to desktop web users can be a waste of time and resources. But even in the case of mobile websites, there are many reasons why it’s an option to stay away from.

For starters, users spend 90% of their mobile time in apps, as opposed to just 10% browsing the internet. The user experience (UX), speed, extra features, and the security of native apps are all reasons for that.

In short, your efforts will be more fruitful if you focus on serving app install ads through in-app advertising. More precisely, using ad space inside apps is a better choice than any other. Let’s take a closer look at the whats and whys of in-app advertising.

What Is In-App Advertising? 

In 2020, the global in-app advertising revenues are expected to hit a whopping US$117 billion. Simply put, in-app advertising is a monetization strategy adopted by the majority of publishers, in which the app developers get paid for serving adverts on their applications.

It’s something marketers in the 21st century can’t afford to miss. Since the majority of in-app ad formats blend well with the app UI, they have a higher click-through rate (CTR) than any other mobile web ads.

Since ad blockers are least effective on mobile apps as compared to the web, there is more assurance that your ad will reach the target audience. 

Also, unlike any other digital device, mobile phones are, in most cases, exclusively used by an individual – thereby allowing marketers to tap right into their daily habits.

To run highly-targeted ads, in-app advertising is way superior to mobile web ads, giving marketers the ability to target users based on their,

  • Operating system (OS)
  • Age
  • Gender
  • GPS location
  • Device type

This means advertisers can exploit valuable data to reach the right audience, at the right time, and even at the right place. Another point to note is the tracking method used for in-app advertising. While cookies are used in websites to save information regarding a user’s session, mobile apps use device ID instead. 

The problem with cookies is that they are linked to browsers, so if a person uses multiple browsers, discrepancies may arise. Such inconsistencies are eradicated by using device IDs, which are also known to last for an average of 21 months – nearly 630 times longer than cookies.

Types of Programmatic In-App Formats

One of the best things about programmatic in-app ads is the range of formats it offers. Unlike web advertisements that may look spammy, advertising inside an app has the advantage of being seamlessly integrated with the app content.

In that sense, mobile web adverts can be seen as a distraction to the user experience, whereas in-app ads gel with the natural flow of apps. Just like choosing the correct attributes to rightly target the users, it’s equally important to serve ads in the right format. Here are the essential programmatic in-app ad formats you need to be aware of.

1. Native Ads

Native ad on Instagram

A native ad on Instagram

Native ads fit within the look and feel of an app – thereby allowing to deliver a non-distractive user experience. The advertisement may look like any other in-app component and so doesn’t feel like forced advertising. Their non-invasive nature grants them 8.8 times higher click-through rate as compared to a typical ad.

2. Interstitial Ads

interstitial ad

A full-screen interstitial ad. Image Credit:

Interstitial ads are full-screen banners that are thoughtfully placed between the content break. For example, in gaming apps, this type of in-app ad can be placed between each level – causing the least intrusion to user experience. Since they consume the entire screen real estate, users are less likely to miss them and therefore, a higher number of impressions.

3. Banner Ads

banner ads

Banner ads on a fitness app.

Banner ads can be considered as the advertising format that made it first to mobile apps. And yes, they were borrowed from websites (known there as web banners) and are of relatively smaller size. They are unobtrusive and have lower costs per impression than other forms of advertising.

4. Medium Rectangle Ads

Medium Rectangle Ad

A medium rectangle ad on a wallpaper app.

Medium rectangle ads act as an alternative ad format that doesn’t consume as much of screen space as interstitials but is way bigger than banner ads. They have a better visual impact than banner ads and are a cost-effective option.

5. Interstitial Video Ads

Interstitial video ad

Interstitial video ads on TikTok.

Just like the interstitial ads, interstitial video ads cover the entire screen of a user’s device and are mindfully placed between app content. Users are least likely to miss this format and so have a higher engagement rate.

6. Rewarded Video Ads

Rewarded Video Ads

Rewarded video ads have an opt-in nature.

Rewarded video ads are often used in gaming applications, tempting users to view a video ad by promising in-app goods in return. Around 62% of gamers view rewarded ads on a regular basis. Since this format has an opt-in nature, visibility and engagement rates are higher, and marketers have better chances to fetch high-quality leads.

7. Outstream Video Ads


outstream video ad

How outstream video ads work. Image Credit:

Outstream video ads are placed between app content such as images or texts. This type of advert plays automatically only when the user reaches a particular area where it is placed. This will guarantee higher visibility rates as users are notified of the ad’s presence with its auto-play nature.

8. Instream Pre-Roll Video Ads

Instream pre-roll ads


Instream pre-roll ads on YouTube. Image Credit:

Instream pre-roll video ads are ideal for apps having native video players. They are played before, during or after each video content – think YouTube for that matter. It’s an easy method for marketers to grab the attention of the users and a lucrative way for developers to monetize their apps.

9. Playable Ads

playable ads

Playable ads give a glimpse of the app’s gameplay. Image Credit:

Playable ads are ideal if you want to drive installs for gaming apps. It’s an interactive ad format that delivers a test version of the game being marketed. Users will get a quick glimpse of what the game looks and feels like – thereby increasing the chances of installing it. If you are creative enough, you can utilise it for advertising other products as well.

Mobile In-App Programmatic

For more clarity, let’s take a look at how in-app ad spaces are bought using programmatic media buying.

A critical component that makes programmatic advertising possible is the mobile ads SDK. SDK, short for software development kits, is a set of tools and programs that allows developers to create common functionality without starting from scratch.

Keeping the technicalities of development apart, ad SDKs makes it easier for developers to monetize their creation. These SDKs allow developers to manage ad inventory demands from multiple ad networks, which starts the process of in-app programmatic.

Now, back to programmatic buying.

There are numerous methods to perform programmatic buying, including,

  • Real-Time Bidding (RTB)
  • Private Marketplace (PMPs)
  • Preferred Deals
  • Programmatic Direct


Since real-time bidding is often used, let’s take a quick look at how it works. 

Real-time bidding is often misunderstood as synonymous with programmatic. But it’s a type of buying process (like the rest above). As the name suggests, RTB is the buying and selling of ad inventory, real-time, through auctions.

And the entire process is faster than you think – probably happens in milliseconds. The RTB ecosystem is incomplete or let alone, unusable without DSPs, SSPs, and ad exchanges. 

The RTB system starts with a publisher sending their ad inventory to an ad exchange. Advertisers use DSPs to place bids on the inventory, which is generally calculated in terms of ad impressions.

The highest bidder wins the impression. It’s a win-win situation for both parties. Advertisers get to target their potential customers, and the publisher receives the highest possible amount on their inventory.

Why Is Programmatic in App Advertising Effective?

From the advantages of both programmatic buying and in-app advertising mentioned above, it’s evident that combining both will work wonders to deliver highly-targeted ads with high engagement rates. 

According to a study, 73% of media buyers prefer programmatic in-app advertisements for better targeting abilities and customer engagement. If you’re still sceptical about the advantages of programmatic in-app advertising, here are some more reasons to consider.

1. In-App Programmatic is less prone to ad fraud

Along with the safety and transparency programmatic buying brings, in-apps ads are 25% less likely to be the subject of ad frauds as compared to mobile web advertising. The reason why the mobile web is more prone to fraudulent attempts is because of its similarity to the desktop web.

Scammers can interchangeably use both mediums and loot advertisers. However, apps, having an entirely different architecture, are reasonably immune to such fraudulent activities.

2. It’s a data-driven process

Unlike mobile web ads that use cookies to track the users, device identifiers are used for in-app ads. The very process is a boon for programmatic buying as data is updated real-time.

Advertisers can also track the post-install events to see at which stage of the sales funnel a user is currently at and serve ads accordingly. Having knowledge of the device type, operating system, location, and post-install actions helps in serving hyper-focused, relevant ads.

3. Your campaigns become easily tweakable

Unlike traditional buying or advertising, in-app programmatic equips you with instantaneous information of the state of your campaigns – whether successful or not. This will offer you the ability to tweak ad campaigns before you fully exploit your resources – by the method known as real-time campaign optimization.

Real-time campaign optimization is the use of real-time data analytics offered by programmatic to continually update your campaigns based on user actions. It also means you can use app analytics and tools to measure engagement metrics and apply your learnings on the current campaigns without having to wait for the next to rectify the errors or updating strategies.

How to plan a programmatic app install campaign?

Creating a strategy for a programmatic app install campaign is critical to eliminate the guesswork and to save time and resources. Here are some of the vital things to consider while planning.

  • Set your goal – which in this case is user acquisition or app installation.
  • Find your target audience.
  • Choose the operating system.
  • Design eye-catching creatives.
  • Select the type of in-app ad format.
  • Decide your target location.
  • Formulate a spending budget.

To buy ad inventory, you can use a full-stack online advertising platform like Knorex XPO that comes with a DSP. 

Have a look at how to create a programmatic app install campaign in it.

1. Launch a new campaign.

2. Under Select Campaign Channels click on Programmatic.

select campaign

3. Select the Objective as App Installs.

4. Select the Advertiser Account.

5. Choose KPI as Cost Per Install and key in KPI Amount.

6. Create a programmatic ad group and select the ad group type.

Create a programmatic ad group

7. Select the bidding strategy as Cost per install and save the ad group.

Select the bidding strategy

8. Create app install ad creative. The accepted creative size formats are 320px x 480px, 320px x 50px, and 300px x 250px.

9. Save the creative and link it to the ad group you created.

Your campaign will now be live.

Final Thoughts

With in-app programmatic advertising, marketers can finally bid goodbye to generalised and ineffective ad campaigns. Instead of going behind clicks or impressions, they can now target the right audience, at the right time, at the right place, and for the right price.

It also addresses another critical issue – the lifetime value of the users. As users with nominal lifetime value do more harm than good, programmatic lets you cut off such segments and focus only on the ones that are more likely to engage and retain with the app.

But don’t be deceived by the promises of one-size-fits-all formulas. User behaviours are in a constant state of flux. Their expectations vary with time and what influences a particular audience segment may merely touch the other. The key is to continually experiment with your campaigns, and in-app programmatic seems to be a better companion for that.