Rovio is firing a slingshot at mobile ad networks

Angry Birds maker Rovio has created a brand advertising partnership team, comprised of several senior digital adland hires. The formation of the new division is a monumental landmark in the app developer’s evolution from games developer to media owner and could be a slingshot in the eye of the third party ad networks that have helped fund its free apps to date.

Lara O'Reilly

The new integrated advertising unit will be courting brands not only for their display spend inside the popular Angry Birds games, but also for more strategic licensing, marketing, merchandising and product placement partnerships.

Rovio has appointed an impressive roster of talent to lead the global team including Apple iAd’s EMEA general manger Todd Tran, former Time and MTV ad executive Betsy Flounders and Milennial Media regional vice president Matt Pfeffer.

The appointees will have several trump cards to play when approaching brands, such as Rovio’s 1 billion downloads to date and estimated 263 million monthly active users. By comparison, one of mobile marketing’s other hot properties at the moment, Twitter, has 200 million.

Rovio’s move to create an ad division comes at a time when the company’s games are actually slipping out of the iOS app revenue charts, according to analytics company App Annie. While paid-for downloads for its games shot straight to the top of the leagues when the Angry Birds franchise was first launched, the majority of smartphone owners keep the games on the phones after the first download, with little reason to make an additional purchase.

The decline in downloads is why it’s so important for Rovio to focus on other revenue streams, which it has done in abundance, with everything from a theme park, to a movie and a beverage strategy in the works.

It’s probably fair to say that Rovio’s in-game ads were a bit of an afterthought for the company, hence its reliance on ad networks. As a result of the reliance on third parties, the odd inappropriate ad has slipped through the net, a matter which is worrisome for any media owner.

Rovio stated in the announcement of its brand advertising partnership team it will look to build out native ads, integrating brands directly into the landscape of its games – rather than displaying the often irritating and jarring banners at the top of the screen.

The move should serve to remind mobile ad networks that their work cannot just be about slotting shapes into pre-defined rectangular boxes, but to work in collaboration with brands to provide the best experience on mobile that consumers will actually want to interact with rather than swipe away from.

Rovio won’t be alone in making in-roads to becoming a media owner, other popular app developers are likely to follow as they search for new revenue streams to extend the commercial lifespan of their games. Advertising teams should keep an eye on the latest developments and start networking beyond the networks and with the developers to understand how they can enhance their mobile ad strategies.

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