Vungle has had a rocky few months. The mobile video ad company was thrown into crisis in October when its founder and CEO, Zain Jaffer, left after being arrested on charges that he sexually assaulted a child. Rick Tallman, chief operating officer, was appointed the new CEO, and while the whole staff was stunned at the incident, they went to work reassuring customers that the company would continue to operate as a major player in the video ad market.
Today, San Francisco-based Vungle is launching a major new platform for mobile advertisers — such as app makers and game developers — so that they can create advanced advertising campaigns on a self-serve basis and evaluate how those ads perform. Martin Price, Vungle’s chief product officer, told me in an interview at the Casual Connect game event that the Vungle Self-Serve platform puts small or large advertisers in control of setting up campaigns and automatically creating videos while managing assets and targeting the right audiences. This kind of tool could democratize ad monetization for apps, which are headed toward generating $201 billion in revenue by 2021, according to market researcher App Annie.
“The app store revenue continues to grow, and there are great companies that are building a lot more titles,” Price said. “And there is a second trend toward more AI and automation. We want to do something that helps with discovery, as it is becoming harder to find quality users.”
He added, “We can help with faster campaign creation. You can zero in on groups that you want to target. We started out last year with auto-bidding technology, where you set your goals and target and take actions toward it. What we have built out is a tool that can quickly spin up your creative assets for your ad. You can put in a video file and get up and running with a Vungle creative. Then you can A/B test and figure out which one works best.”
The platform lets Vungle’s customers create campaigns, set optimization targets, and upload images and videos to automatically create a variety of ads, based on Vungle’s best-performing creative formats. Vungle’s algorithms then test each creative asset and optimize for ads that best meet performance metrics, whether those are cost per install (CPI), cost per action (CPA), or overall return on ad spend (ROAS). With these different measures of an ad’s success, Vungle thinks smaller advertisers will now have a great shot at being successful.
“We think that giving you quick access to data and performance makes it all much simpler,” Price said. “If a creative is not performing, we’ll stop showing it. For those that are working, you can double down on it.”
The self-serve platform provides the same kind of transparency and control that the largest and most sophisticated performance advertisers can get. Marketers can use the tool to see real-time campaign performance by publisher, creative, and territory. They can adjust bids and targeting options or rely on Vungle’s automated systems. So far, 20 beta users have been testing the product, and now the open beta is available.
“We really appreciate Vungle’s new self-service platform,” said Viktoriia Kuksa, user acquisition specialist at Pretty Simple Games, in a statement. “It offers more flexibility to create and optimize campaigns and creatives with ease.”
In the past, Vungle focused on premium advertisers. Price and Tallman both said that the new platform could vastly expand the number of app and game publishers who could create high-quality video ads and launch user acquisition campaigns. Vungle is already used by 50,000 mobile apps, and it serves 3 billion video views a month on 850 million unique devices. The smaller companies have been handicapped because they often have to create very different kinds of ads for platforms such as Snapchat. They can’t afford to put such time into every single major platform, and so automation is key, Price said.
“We think this will help Vungle scale its business worldwide,” Price said. “It will open us up to new advertisers. It democratizes a little bit.”
The Vungle platform will give ad creators access to premium in-app inventory, regardless of the budget level for the ads. Vungle makes money as advertisers buy ads on its platform, and it takes a share of the revenue based on how well the ads perform.
“Vungle’s new Self-Serve platform levels the playing field in terms of access to high-value consumers for any advertiser,” said Price.
Meanwhile, Jaffer no longer has a role in the company and was terminated by the board. Jaffer has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the alleged sexual assault. Price said that the company’s 200 employees spoke to all customers about the situation and reassured those clients that it would remain resilient.
“It was a stunning event in a bad way, but we acted quickly to make changes,” Price said. “And we’ve seen the company come together. We explained how we are moving forward. We continue to grow. Rick helped us keep our continuity. And we built a lot of products last year that will be coming out this year. We’ll make more noise this year and keep growing.”
Vungle is backed by Google Ventures, Thomvest Ventures, and Crosslink Capital.
Disclosure: The organizers of Casual Connect paid my way to Anaheim, California. Our coverage remains objective.