Guardian sees smartphone as critical facet of continued revenues, growth

By Lee Fels

At The Guardian, the revenue outlook for mobile Web and mobile apps for the smartphone is extremely positive.

Smartphones are enabling us to grow our reach and continue our editorial and commercial dialogue with our users throughout the day, in times when we might not have previously been able to reach them.

Where once we were the ninth-largest newspaper in the United Kingdom, we are now, across all platforms, the third-largest global English-language news publisher. 

Smartphone is a critical part of this.

The “freemium” model: Recently, we released a “freemium” model for smartphone apps, so we can monetise users both from subscriber and advertising perspectives, depending on their preference.

The freemium model gives paying users premium features, such as an advertising-free version of the company’s apps.

Native advertising: We also are exploring native advertising formats within our smartphone apps and recently released this technology on our desktop site.

This is an important evolution in the smartphone creative conundrum, by which we have to take into account screen size and user experience vs. the desire for greater advertiser prominence. 

Native ads will allow us to produce formats that are bigger and bolder but offer seamless integration as opposed to interruption. This can only bring benefits to brands.

Responsive design: In addition, we are in the process of building a responsive design site that will bring much anticipated responsive advertising and its positive revenue impact on the smartphone.

Aside from a lack of optimised sites, one of the most commonly cited reasons for lack of client spend on mobile is advertisers not having the budget, or creative agencies not having the time, to build additional mobile creative.

If the advertiser is able to use one creative that will scale according to screen size, we are able to remove this impediment and serve campaigns across our digital users.

Further to this, we believe media will migrate audiences, not platforms, and responsive creative will mean we can much more seamlessly target the user across our digital platforms. 

Banner advertising: To date, banner advertising has been the mainstay of The Guardian’s smartphone revenue. We have seen tremendous growth here, with 55% revenue growth during the past financial year and 85% year-over-year growth. 

The reason for the continued growth is that the offering is maturing. Where once publishers would offer run of mobile, we can now — thanks to improved scale and technology — offer contextual, keyword, behaviour, and demographic targeting.

The Guardian is constantly exploring how to marry this with the best creative. Those efforts have included offering advertisers assistance in building rich media creative, implementing an MPU (mid-page unit) into its apps, and experimenting with sticky creative.

Location-based advertising: Location-based advertising has proved problematic, with user permission (particularly on iOS) and scale being an issue. To put this into some context, we served a location-based voucher campaign for a Guardian-appropriate brand to users of our mobile site within a 10-mile radius of London.

The Guardian, which has an audience skewed towards London and the southeast region of the United Kingdom, found that despite more than one million advertising calls made, only 10,000 impressions were served. Users either refused to share their location or were not in the specific location. 

Companies that have been the most successful in this area are either using SMS with scale (WEVE) or have an extensive network of WiFi hot spots mapped (Blismobile), which offer scale and allow them to circumnavigate iOS permissions. 

QR Codes: Nonetheless, QR codes have become a welcome addition to The Guardian’s print advertising. We do have some reservations about QR codes. Because the QR reader is not pre-installed in smartphone cameras, users must download a reader that must be opened when they want to scan a code.

This is creating another call to action in the process and, generally speaking, the fewer actions a user is expected to take the more likely they are to engage. We have the same concerns about with Augmented Reality. 

This is one of 17 case studies featured in the recent INMA strategic report “The Smartphone Choices for Media Companies.” For more information on this report, free to INMA members, click here

About Lee Fels

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