- Mobile in-app ad spend fell 14% in March as the COVID-19 pandemic dampened demand for ad inventory. The 16% decline for Android devices was bigger than the 13% drop for iOS devices between the first and last weeks of March, per an announcement by ad fraud management platform Pixalate.
- Sports-related apps took a significant hit on iOS devices, with programmatic ad spending plunging 99% on ESPN Live Sports and 95% on the National Basketball Association's official app. The 83% drop in the broader sports category was bigger than losses for apps in utilities (-60%), books (-36%), weather (-28%) and business (-26%), per Pixalate.
- However, advertisers boosted their iOS spending on shopping apps 178%, exceeding the gains for other categories such as food and drink (97%), photo and video (95%), news (20%) and entertainment (11%). On Android, the biggest gains were for parenting (122%), dating (103%), video players and editors (101%), business (62%) and auto and vehicles (21%), per Pixalate.
The drop in programmatic in-app ad spend observed by Pixalate indicates how mobile marketers shifted their spending during the early days of pandemic lockdowns even as smartphone usage soared, as measured by Comscore. The plunge in ad spending on sports-related apps reflects the sudden cancellation of major sporting events like March Madness and the suspension of operations for most sports leagues such as the NBA and MLB. Spending is unlikely to return to those apps until sports organizations can resume their seasons.
The surge in ad spending on shopping, parenting, food and drink, photo and video, and dating apps reflects how housebound consumers have become more reliant on their mobile devices for a wide range of activities. Mobile marketers want to reach those consumers when they're most ready to shop, with apps like Kohl's seeing a 517% gain in ad spend, while secondhand marketplace Letgo saw a 181% jump, per Pixalate.
Food and beverage apps have become more important as consumers seek takeout and delivery services from restaurants that closed their dining rooms. The increase in spending on parenting apps likely reflects increased usage among people seeking advice and activities for their kids as schools cancel classes and shift to distance learning. It's somewhat surprising that dating apps saw a big gain in ad growth, but that may reflect increased usage as singles seek to connect with others even as they practice social distancing.
The overall decline in programmatic in-app ad spending comes as other digital media platforms also experience a drop in demand during the COVID-19 crisis. Facebook, the social network that has the second-biggest ad platform after Google, experienced a drop in its cost per mille (CPM) ranging from 15% to 25% during Q1, according to media buyers. The company said in a blog post that its ad business had been adversely affected by the pandemic, and is likely to provide more details when it reports quarterly earnings on April 26.