Buying Mobile Advertising using Mobile Demand Side Platforms (Mobile DSPs)

There is vast potential in the huge new mobile advertising channels that are opening up. But while expectations for mobile continually rises we’re constantly told that advertiser confidence, and ad spend, always seems to be two steps behind. We’ve discussed the problems facing mobile advertising numerous times before – there’s an oversupply of ad inventory created by an ever rising number of apps and mobile sites, while advertisers are cautious about spending due to problems with measuring mobile ad campaigns (tracking), which in turn has raised doubts over their effectiveness.

While these problems persist, the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming increasingly brighter, and that light appears to be coming from mobile demand side platforms (DSPs) and mobile real time bidding (RTB). From small developers looking to gain loyal app users, to bigger brands wanting to increase awareness, mobile DSPs – like their desktop counterparts before them – are offering advertisers greater control and transparency over campaigns, by leveraging precise user data to target and increase the effectiveness of ads. DSPs may not be solving the tracking issue directly, but they do introduce a hefty dose of predictability and reliability into mobile marketing.

Last week we took a look at mobile supply side platforms (SSPs) and ad servers, which sit at the publisher end of the RTB eco-system. In this blog we’re going to look at advertiser end of the deal, and talk to some of the bigger players in the market, explaining what DSPs do and how they can help you get the most .

If you run a mobile DSP and think you should be covered here then get in touch and dont forget to check out our mobile ad exchange for more Mobile DSPs

What are mobile DSPs?

  • Mobile DSPs are the platforms/interfaces that allow advertisers to buy inventory across a variety of ad exchanges, networks and publishers
  • Usually used with real time bidding exchanges, but not always
  • Focused on leveraging user data to better target ads on impression-by-impression basis
  • Can give smaller developers a transparent and cost-effective way to acquire loyal users
  • Allow advertisers to create traffic profiles and automate real-time media buying strategies

What is RTB?

Most mobile DSPs plug into the real time bidding eco-system. So to understand what a mobile DSP is you first need to grasp the idea of real time bidding (RTB).  RTB is a way for advertisers to by ad impressions online and for publishers to sell their inventory across apps and mobile websites. On the advertiser/media buyer side you have DSPs, which help the buying of inventory. On the publisher side you have SSPs that help developers and site owners sell their inventory.  Then in the middle you’ve got RTB exchanges and ad networks. The diagram below from Fiksu – a DSP that helps developers acquire users for mobile apps – illustrates the system nicely.

So a publisher on the SSP side floats his ad impressions for sale on the ad exchange. The advertisers then engage in a real time auction, bidding for those ad impressions. Whoever bids the most gets their ad displayed. But the really clever part of the RTB solution, is that advertisers can leverage a whole load of targeting data concerning the impressions.

So for instance, if you’re an app developer looking to buy downloads for your space-themed videogame, your DSP’s algorithm might predict that sci-fi fans will have a higher chance of downloading and becoming loyal users, particularly if it’s the weekend when they have time to play. You’ll then be able to prioritise bids on weekends for impressions in mobile sites related to sci-fi movie news. The DSP can then learn the pattern of traffic that most likely leads to a download of your apps, create a profile of that traffic type, and then automatically adjust the buying strategy to maximise downloads. Of course, all of these bids take place within milliseconds and are on a ‘per impression basis’, not a bulk traffic buy. This in theory gives you greater control over what you’re buying and delivers more relevant ads to the user – gaining you more relevant impressions. To learn more about RTB take a look at our guide to mobile ad servers

‘Black Box’ versus self-serve

DSPs traditionally come in two variants. Firstly you’ve got what’s sometimes referred to as “Black Box” DSPs. These are platforms that are entirely managed and controlled by the provider. So an advertiser will work with the DSP provider to figure out budget, goals, and other elements of the campaign, and then hand over the reins to them. The other type of DSP is a self-serve model, where the advertiser has complete control over their media buying.

While the term “Black Box” is used somewhat pejoratively, many advertisers simply don’t have the time or expertise to manage their campaigns, so handing over control often makes sense. However, on the other hand these types of DSPs will cost more than self-serve options and may not be suitable for smaller developers. The most important thing to consider is the level of transparency offered by the DSP. Just because you’ve handed over control, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access to all the details of your campaign. Most DSPs talk about transparency, but make sure they definitely give you access to as much campaign details as you want before you sign-up. At the moment there aren’t many mobile DSPs that are entirely self-serve, but if you have a smaller budget and are prepared to put in the extra legwork they could be a better choice.

Of course the definition of a Mobile DSP is changing all the time – many agencies and trading desks who buy large amounts of mobile advertising could effectively be termed DSPs.  In addition, some of the ad networks and ad servers are integrating forward into becoming buying points.  This makes perfect sense in a world where mobile ad inventory is outstripping demand – the buy side becomes the key gateway.  For example the mobile ad server Smaato has spun-off a demand side sister company Adsmobi.  Whilst the mobile ad network Adfonic is increasingly positioning itself closer to being a Demand Side Platform.


DSP/RTB facts and stats

  • Human Demand claims an average cost per download of $1.50 for developers
  • RTB can decrease user acquisition costs by as much as 3x says Fiksu
  • WDA claims to have generated 20,000 downloads in 20 days for MeetMoi app and 13,000 downloads in two weeks for My Little Pony
  • Fiksu claims its CPDs can reach as low as $0.45
  • eCPM for real time bidding ads across MoPub’s verticals hover between $0.70 and $0.80
  • Human Demand’s platform has no minimums so advertisers can spend as little as they like
  • Receipt app Lemon reached number 2 rank in App Store’s productivity category with Fiksu’s platform
  • Real-time bidders value iOS inventory more than Android, with iOS taking 64% of auction volume share, according to eMarketer.
  • 75% of SMBs say that the ability to optimise campaigns in real time is very important or somewhat important, according to Borrell.
  • Mobile ad exchange Nexage experiencing 70% per month bid volume growth on their RTB exchange

Why should I advertise with a mobile DSP?


As explained above one of the key benefits of advertising with RTB is the precise level of targeting offered. Mobile advertising is still largely dominated by blind ad networks, such as Inmobi or Admob. Whereas a blind ad buy is typically a bulk buy, a DSP can target each and every ad impression. You get to know exactly where your impression is appearing, exactly which publisher provided the most effective traffic, and where you can start focusing your budget.

The targeting offered by DSPs can vary, for instance StrikeAd say they use over 30 variables in their targeting solution, but most allow you to pinpoint users via:

  • Location
  • Device (i.e. Samsung Galaxy SIII)
  • Operating system (Android, iOS, etc)
  • Carrier
  • Previous sites visited and apps used
  • App categories
  • The day and the time of day

Targeting for ROI

Another benefit of enhanced targeting is that it can reduce concerns over the lack of tracking offered in mobile and increase predictability. For instance, app developers can benefit from DSP traffic profiling, which lets them see what types of traffic generate the most amount of app downloads, and then focus on that traffic and increase their bids on CPD. Also, some DSPs – such as WDA and StrikeAd – integrate their own proprietary tracking solutions into their platform.

Diverse inventory

Of course, the big benefit of DSPs, compared to ad networks, is that you’re getting access to a wide variety of inventory from different networks and exchanges. This coupled with the transparency on offer from bidding on a impression-by-impression basis, lets you theoretically get the most value for your spend. Of course, you can always sell direct to any publishers that suit your requirements, but direct selling via an advertiser still won’t enable the precise targeting capabilities that many DSPs offer.

Ask the experts: Mobile DSPs

We fired a few questions at two of the industry’s most popular mobile demand side platforms to find out how they can help  advertisers, and what the future of the mobile RTB landscape might look like. First up is Howie Schwartz the CEO and founder of Human Demand, followed by StrikeAd’s sales director Paul Gubbins.

Howie Schwartz, CEO, Human Demand

What makes Human Demand different from the other mobile DSPs out there?

1) We are self serve vs the majority of DSPs which are managed platforms. We have no minimums so advertisers of all sizes can run campaigns vs other DSPs with very high entry points / minimums (often $25k or $50k)
2) We are 100% transparent – mobile advertisers see every single impression and every single placement name (name of the publisher / app) they are running in.
3) We are performance focused, its in our DNA. The majority of mobile ad networks and DSPs are brand focused and are not built for the needs of mobile affiliates and user acquisition campaigns for app developers.

What advice do you have for smaller advertisers looking to use a DSP?

Human Demand’s dashboard

The biggest suggestion I can make is to have a testing goal / budget. You don’t want to start a campaign without a goal and pause it after spending $50 as you will not have run enough data / media to learn anything. I suggest a 5-10 day testing budget and the patience to work through and optimize on early results. I feel most advertisers do not spend enough time on their creatives (banners) and this is a mistake.

What kind of targeting capabilities does your platform have and how important is user data to mobile RTB?

Human Demand allows advertisers in self serve to target what we believe is the deepest level available in the market: device, carrier, dayparting, category of apps / publishers, individual sites and apps (down to the specific names of publishers), location (zip code and down to lat / lon), and demographics (age, gender). One of the key benefits of mobile RTB is data / targeting – since Human Demand operates in complete transparency you have the ability to optimize in every single one of the targeting methods I mentioned above.

Mobile RTB is still in its early days, are you seeing much demand for it right now?

110%. Mobile app developers (especially the long-tail / independent developers) are dying for a performance focused self serve solution for customer acquisition and that is exactly what Human Demand delivers. We are also seeing very strong demand from the brand/ agency side who focus on the transparency (building of brand safe site / app lists), rich media capabilities (MRAID, video), and hyper local targeting that RTB enables.

How do you see mobile DSP/RTB market evolving over the next few years?

I think the next evolution is in working with 3rd party data. With the desktop web / non-mobile DSPs this is the norm as they all work on cookies. With mobile we have no cookie standard that is reliable so it is a new challenge. We see this as the next big leap (we have been working with 3rd party data providers on mobile over the past few months).

More premium inventory will become available on RTB and also through ‘private exchanges’. New ad units / formats will be tested as not all campaign objectives can be met with a banner alone.

Will the future of mobile ads be RTB dominated?

RTB is a big win for advertisers. Since this is a new technology, not all publishers (especially premium publishers) are comfortable with RTB and still wish to remain ‘blind’ to avoid channel conflict with their direct sales efforts. I think ad networks will still have a place in the market, the same way they do on the desktop web, but marketshare will shift to the exchanges / RTB very quickly. I personally feel the majority of the R&D investments and ‘interesting’ adtech are focused on RTB vs. ‘old school’ ad networks so this will also push the DSP / RTB model ahead.

Paul Gubbins, sales director, StrikeAd

How well can smaller advertisers and developers do out of using a platform like StrikeAd? And is this a platform that’s built for them?

We recently saw the results from a recent survey by Pontiflex, which found that 72% of SMBs said they would increase or keep the same mobile ad spend in the next 12 months.

We’ve witnessed these levels of growth amongst smaller businesses, which are certainly keen to track the value of their mobile advertising spend. The research also found that they are looking for more sophisticated platforms to track the impact mobile ads are having. A huge 77% said that the ability to analyse campaign performance is important, with 75% confirming that the ability to optimise campaigns in real time is very important.

This shows a great understanding and awareness from SMBs of the value of using mobile advertising, and with often limited budgets, SMBs are looking to gain the maximum benefits from their ad spend. The ability to measure the effect of mobile advertising in real-time through a mobile DSP such as ours can make a huge difference to their overall campaign.

In order to use mobile ads to grow their business, the industry needs to make ROI visible and transparent, showing the benefits that can be achieved when real-time bidding is combined with demographics and location tracking, for example. Advertisers can then adapt and modify their mobile ad campaigns as they happen, in real time.

Do you have any advice for advertisers looking to use mobile DSPs for the first time?

One thing that we would certainly urge advertisers to do is to allocate their budgets to include all mobile devices. iPads and other tablets offer a more conventional web-browsing experience, while smartphones require a more dedicated end-to-end solution. Rather than simply driving mobile users to normal websites, advertisers need to consider the mobile channel as an entire solution, just on a smaller screen. A mobile-optimised site is essential to enable customers to complete their transaction via their mobile device.

Advertisers also need to observe how much of their traffic is coming through mobile devices. This will show how much budget to allocate to mobile in the marketing spend, and where to allocate it. StrikeAd has a platform that helps to simplify what can be a highly complex and fragmented process and makes sure that the right ad reaches the right devices and people at the right time.

StrikeAd was one of the first mobile DSPs on the market, how have you seen the mobile DSP/RTB market evolve?

We’re seeing a huge trend for mobile emerging in Asia. It’s a particularly exciting trend offering marketers in Asia the ability to target the right message to the right audience at the right time, and we are finding the take-up is huge across Asia right now. The average conversion rate for opt-in marketing and advertising currently stands at 22.15%. This is more than twenty times the response rate for direct marketing.

That’s why we have answered this trend with our expansion into Asia, headed up by Carl Costa, Managing Director. We’ve witnessed the massive upturn in the adoption of smartphones across AsiaPac over the last 12-18 months, and as a result, budgets for mobile advertising are only increasing.

Will the future of mobile ads be RTB dominated?

The future of mobile ads will certainly be RTB dominated. On the PC, you can target someone sitting at their desk, but on a mobile device you can target the right person at exactly the right time, who has the right intent and who is exactly where you want them to be. This makes mobile advertising an extremely effective method of targeting consumers.

And this is all made possible with Real-Time Bidding (RTB) – a key development in mobile advertising. Advertisers can now buy mobile ad space in real time and deliver ads instantly to specific areas, times and devices. Link this with the rise in location-based advertising, and advertisers are uniquely placed to target consumers with highly relevant offers.

Viki Zabala, director of marketing, Fiksu

What makes Fiksu different from the other mobile DSPs out there?

Fiksu for Mobile Apps is a high-performance app marketing technology platform that combines DSP, real-time bidding capabilities and integrations with more than 40 mobile ad networks. Fiksu provides access to all these sources via one mediated platform. We have the world’s largest mobile traffic reach, with access to more than 225 billion monthly ad impressions that developers can leverage via highly optimized, real-time ad buys. What makes Fiksu different is its technology, scalability, access to traffic and mobile experience/expertise.

Many of our readers are smaller advertisers and app developers – without huge budgets. How well can they do out of using a platform like Fiksu’?

Fiksu has a number of clients that started small and have grown substantially; some to the point of generating literally millions of downloads.

While Fiksu’s platform does service some very large, high-volume clients, Fiksu’s algorithms use predictive statistical techniques that help generate conversion and loyal usage improvement with small data sets. Fiksu also has access to a range of tools to help smaller developers succeed; rather than using one particular technology or channel, Fiksu focuses on what works for the client and its app. In addition to its real-time buying through exchanges, Fiksu also help developers with their app marketing strategies, ranking and search optimization in the app stores, and incentivized campaigns as an adjunct to many programs. While not for every app, these programs have proven extremely valuable as a cost-effective launch tool for smaller developers.

What tips do you have for smaller advertisers/developers looking to use mobile DSPs for the first time?

Developers should consider weighing alternate marketing channels carefully. There are circumstances when real-time exchanges are going to give developers greater results. There are other cases where those exchanges might not be the most cost-effective choice. Traffic available via RTB and DSP channels is still only a fraction of the market and may not be able to deliver the volume of users needed. Conventional ad networks often have access to traffic that may be highly appropriate for apps. Incentivized traffic can often be helpful in launching an app or gaining exposure during a marketing push, and, depending on the app, it can be very cost effective. If advertisers have a business, they need the right results, so they must not limit themselves to one particular solution. This is one reason Fiksu leverages multiple channels.

What kind of targeting do you offer and how important is targeting when it comes to gaining loyal users?

Fiksu takes a scalable, data-driven approach to targeting. The Fiksu optimization engine automatically generates the most effective attributes to target by testing numerous combinations of variables. The results are evaluated by predictive models that allow Fiksu to isolate the most productive sources of traffic and to develop an optimized bidding strategy at a highly granular level.

The algorithms generate targets based on actual performance, rather than any preconceived notion of what is a “good” target. This approach often identifies productive ad traffic in unexpected places. Examples of the targeting variables used include ad source/publisher, ad creative, geography, device, operating system, etc.

In addition to targeting based on exchange-provided variables, Fiksu targets and optimizes around loyal user metrics. Fiksu defines loyal users as those who take an action, such as an in-app purchase or registration. Loyal users who become repeat customers, word-of-mouth advocates and deliver revenue return.

Fiksu can also optimize to volume, rank, organics and other variables. This data-driven targeting is very important in generating volumes of loyal users. It allows mobile marketers to spend ad dollars based on performance and deliver quality, loyal users in highest volumes at lowest costs.

How hands on do developers get with your platform, or do you guys do all the work?

Fiksu provides a self-service dashboard that delivers detailed reporting and analytics, enabling app developers 24-hour visibility into their campaign status, along with comprehensive performance breakdowns. The dashboard provides both conventional metrics, such as conversions, cost per conversion, and also metrics focused on the app business model, such as cost per loyal user, cost per purchase event, etc. Fiksu also provides reporting about app store rank – something many marketers find interesting to help track and correlated their marketing spends.

For campaign setup, placement and buying, app developers outline their goals, and Fiksu’s system manages the process based on jointly agreed upon cost, volume and ROI targets.

Fiksu recently surveyed its clients – a mix of both small and large clients – and one of the more interesting findings – particularly with smaller clients – was many of them had one individual managing their app marketing efforts part-time. They saw great value in being able to leverage Fiksu’s expertise to help them manage their campaigns.

Mobile Demand Side Platforms: Key players

Avazu Mobile

Avazu mobile LOGO

Avazu Mobile offers inventory from a range of exchanges and traffic sources from around the world.  The platform is based on the latest RTB and machine learning technologies with particular strength in the APAC market as well as internationally.

Avazu Mobile features

Real Time Bidding: offers inventory via RTB based on its experience in the online market including from a range of publishers, ad networks and exchanges

ROI driven: allows campaigns to be run and optimized on a CPA, CPI or CPL based model

Human Demand

Human Demand was set-up in the beginning of 2012 in private beta and is now open to all mobile advertisers and app developers as of August 15th. The DSP is mainly focused on smaller app developers looking for a cheaper entry into RTB. Unlike many other DSPs, Human Demand is self-serve, aiming to give advertisers more transparency and control over their campaigns. Because it eliminates the management-side of DSPs, there’s no minimum cost, allowing advertisers to spend as little as $50 on a campaign.

Human Demand  features

Self serve: By letting advertisers manage their own campaigns Humand Demand is able to serve the “long tail” developers, who don’t want to spend $25k+ minimum on campaigns. This also allows Human Demand to offer a greater level of transparency, with advertisers able to see every placement and impression, down to the publisher/app their ad is running in.

Performance focused: Human Demand is an entirely performance focused platform, compared to other DSPs that are tailored more toward brands. This – says CEO Howie Schwartz – makes the platform the best choice for developers looking for a user acquisition campaign.


StrikeAd claims to be the first mobile-focused DSP on the market. The company’s Fusion platform help advertisers build audience profiles with a sophisticated automated optimisation engine for RTB. StrikeAd is one of the bigger mobile-focused DSPs out there with a wide-range of exchange and network partners, and is geared more towards bigger advertisers and agencies than smaller developers.

StrikeAd Fusion features

Fully managed: StrikeAd Fusion is a fully managed trading platform that gives advertisers access, but ultimately is managed and optimised by StrikeAd’s team of experts, working with you to set budgets, objectives and strategy.

Targeting: StrikeAd claims it has over 30 different levels of targeting, including carrier, device, OS, apps, sites and location.

Analytics: StrikeAd offers an enhanced analytics solution with real-time reporting, detailed pattern analysis and campaign statistics.


Tapit is often mentioned by in-the-know mobile media buyers such as the Angry Russian from Mobaff.  It’s got great targeting capabilities and you can focus on more or less any parameter or audience type.  They are now running ads across multiple formats and in rich media too.

Tapit – Key Features 

Brand Performance: Allows buying across multiple ad types and sources on brand performance basis

Media Buying:  Suitable for mobile media companies, app developers, agencies and brands


MetaResolver is a mobile DSP that focuses on big data, programmatic buying and algorithmic optimisation, in order to deliver more reliable results for advertisers who are chiefly concerned about performance. The company is based in San Francisco and includes legendary mobile developer and founder @miker who was one of the key early engineers at both admob and chomp – acquired by Google and Apple respectively.  One to watch!

MetaResovler key features:

Programmatic buying: MetaResolver says it harnesses the reach and efficiency of mobile real-time bidding exchanges, then optimises your buy with machine learning for state of the art results.


MdotM is a mobile marketing company that claims to have the biggest mobile demand side platform on the market. The MdotM platform is performance-driven, focusing on boosting downloads for app developers across iOS and Android platforms. Publishers working with MdotM include Zynga, ngcomo and Pandora, and the DSP gives advertisers access to inventory from ad networks such as Millennial, Tapjoy and admob.

MdotM features

Universal tracking: MdotM makes a big deal about its universal tracking solution, saying that its universal SDK tracks all paid and organic marketing, enabling attribution of clicks to app installs and any mobile marketing campaigns.

Big name clients: MdotM has managed to attract some big name clients to its DSP. Expedia used the platfrom to boost its iOS app downloads, as well as popular mobile game developer TinyCo.


AdsMobi is a mobile DSP that claims to access more than 30 billion ad requests in more than 230 countries. The company runs an app promotion service called Push App, and offers rich media, audience targeting and location-based mobile advertising typical to most DSPs. The company is based in New York, with offices in London, Hamburg and Singapore.

AdsMobi features

Push App: AdsMobi’s performance-based app solution, which guarantees a number of downloads for your app at a fixed price, targeting territories across Europe and US.


Fiksu is a mobile marketing company that offers ‘Fiksu for Mobile Apps’ – a DSP that helps app developers acquire loyal users. Fiksu claims its platform is the only app acquisition tool that spans the entire mobile eco-system, helping developers intelligently boost their app’s prominence so it can acquire valuable downloads.

Fiksu key features:

Low CPD: Fiksu says its platforms sources data from more than 6.54 billion apps, allowing developers to gain loyal users typically for less than $1.00.


WDA is a mobile marketing company that offers a range of services including RTB media buying for advertisers. WDA says that its mobile DSP is built from the ground-up with mobile in mind, offering a feature-rich platform to advertisers that integrates mobile media buying and its own proprietary closed-loop marketing solution. WDA is based in Michigan, USA.

WDA features

Closed loop: WDA boasts that its closed-loop marketing solution, which is integrated with its DSP media buying, solves the problem of effectively tracking performance marketing campaigns on mobile. The company says the solution is patent-pending and works with iOS apps, as well as Android and HTML5.

Plethora Mobile

Plethora is mobile DSP that works with brands, agencies and developers, giving them the option to buy on a CPM, CPC or CPI basis. The company works with exchanges, SSPs and networks such as Nexage, AdMeld, PubMatic, Smaato and Velti. Plethora Mobile is based in New York City.

Plethora Mobile features

Targeting: Plethora allows advertisers to target by device, OS, country, state, postcode, channel (i.e. games, business, entertainment) and audience segmentation.

Rich media: Plethora offers rich media ad formats such as HTML5 banners, expandables, in-banner video, and in-banner games.


Trademob is not strictly speaking a DSP but it does act as single buying point across multiple ad networks, exchanges and sources and applies optimization using data to the media buy.

Trademob Key Features

  • Programmatic buying and analytical power to optimize across 1000s of data point combinations
  • Specialist in app promotion on a cost per install, cost per action and other basis
  • Sophisticated click fraud detection software

That’s it for now – give us a shout to discuss and remember to head to our mobile ad exchange for more Mobile DSPs