Business

Want Your Music in Wordscapes or Sudoku? Why Artists Are Buying Mobile Game Ads

AudioMob
Elaine Potter

AudioMob founders Christian Facey (left) and Wilfrid Obeng.

When Tate McRae’s team at U.K. label home Ministry of Sound wanted to give the singer-songwriter’s breakthrough single "You Broke Me First" an extra push in December, they turned to an unusual kind of ad spend that yielded big results: mobile games.

Working with London-based advertising startup AudioMob, they placed a 30-second audio ad for the song in popular games including Sudoku and the Scrabble-adjacent Classic Words, with a small clickable banner at the top of the screen driving players to McRae’s release on Spotify.

"It’s Tate McRae, sending love to the U.K. for supporting my track, 'You Broke Me First,'" McRae says in the ad, as the pop song plays in the background. "Click the banner to listen now and add it to the best of your 2020 playlists on Spotify."

While most banner ads on apps have an average click-through rate of 0.01-0.3%, McRae’s had a click-through of 1.46%. Her bounce rate — the percentage of visitors who land on the webpage but then leave without engaging further — was even more impressive: just 0.27%, compared to 20–40% that’s considered very good as an industry benchmark. The campaign had a CPC (cost per click) for the label of $0.46, which is on par with similar music mobile ad campaigns.

These results show the enormous potential for mobile game audio ads, say AudioMob founders Christian Facey and Wilfrid Obeng. This kind of marketing is far less intrusive than standard in-game ads — lengthy, full-screen video pop-ups which interrupt gameplay — and makes obvious sense for promoting music with the potential to tap into a network of 2.7 billion gamers worldwide, according to market researcher Newzoo. The music industry is catching on, and AudioMob is now working on campaigns with music marketing agency Creed Media and rap royalty The Sugarhill Gang.

The idea for AudioMob was born from frustration. In mobile gaming, where the dominant business model is free-to-play games monetized by in-game advertising, the standard is rewarded video ads which players get extra points and other perks for watching. But those ads take over most or all of the screen, interrupting players and often leaving negative associations with both the game and advertiser.

Facey — a former employee of Facebook, Google and the Interactive Advertising Bureau who makes hip-hop music and mobile games as hobbies — thought that audio ads, which already generate close to $18 billion annually for the radio industry, according to market research database Statista, could eliminate that problem. Music ads also have an advantage in mobile games, he says, since players don’t need to pause gameplay to explore the advertised item — they can simply listen to the music as they play.

"This is why the bounce rates are so low," Facey says. "This is the reason we know this is a very, very effective format for the music space."

He developed the idea with Obeng, an engineer and former Goldman Sachs analyst he met while they were both working at Google’s Dublin headquarters, and the duo launched AudioMob in January 2020 with Facey as CEO and Obeng as chief technology officer.

Facey says that most music clients come to AudioMob with audio ads and banners from previous campaigns to work off of. AudioMob then helps labels adjust the ad scripts and choose target demographics based on age, gender, location, network carrier, mobile device and more.

Facey and Obeng find that casual, non-story-driven games like brain puzzles and racing are ideal matches for passive music consumption. AudioMob also works with mobile ad tech companies like AdColony and Fyber to make sure audio ads are delivered only to players who have their volume on. Still, some clients purposely allow players to close and mute their ads for the added data insights, which "give you an idea of whether the song resonates," Obeng says.

AudioMob (which takes a cut of ad spend) has already attracted a roster of top-tier clients. Warner Music hired AudioMob in October to promote Joel Corry’s "Head & Heart" featuring MNEK to players aged 18-30 in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami using audio banner ads in games like Wordscapes, and the ads had a click-through rate of 3.19%, with a bounce rate of 0.3%.

AudioMob has also helped drive new listeners to The Sugarhill Gang, the rap trio whose 1979 single "Rapper's Delight" is largely credited for bringing hip-hop into the mainstream, and partnered with Creed Media, the youth-geared marketing agency with label clients like Def Jam Recordings and Columbia Records.

The company has attracted investment interest from firms including Atomico and Elkstone, which participated in AudioMob’s $2 million seed funding round in November; and is among 12 Black-owned tech startups selected for Google For Startups' Black Founders Immersion program, giving them access to Google mentors and investors.

Being the first in a field comes with its challenges: "We’re in uncharted territory," Obeng says. "We get to innovate, but it’s also a space where we’re really convincing and pushing people to understand the benefit." That’s why he and Facey are now working to turn AudioMob into a self-serve platform, where artists and labels can create campaigns in a few clicks.

The duo also see audio ads crossing over into other platforms, from consoles and PC to virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and "pretty much anything you can play games with," Facey says. Next, they’re working on a music discovery offering for independent artists which they liken to Grand Theft Auto radio, but with the ability for players to click through to each track.

"Imagine that kind of radio concept in every single game you could think of, and there’s an instant click-through," he says. "That’s the way we see this evolving."