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In-app model paying off for GCC advertisers

In a region glued to its phones, in-app advertising presents plentiful opportunities for consumer engagement

A woman uses her mobile phone in a Riyadh cafe. According to data, Saudi Arabians spend five hours a day on their smartphones Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser
A woman uses her mobile phone in a Riyadh cafe. According to data, Saudi Arabians spend five hours a day on their smartphones

It has been some years since digital advertising overtook its real-world counterpart for the lion’s share of global ad spend. And it should come as no surprise that mobile advertising is taking more and more of that percentage.

Within mobile, another category is growing: in-app advertising (IAA).

Effectively, IAA incorporates much of the advertising that you see on your phone in apps other than your web browser. So it can incorporate adverts in social media and news apps, games, utilities and more.

According to Publift, an advertising technology company, the money people spend on in-app purchases (which includes everything from buying a dress touted by an Instagram influencer to stocking up on coins in your favourite game) will grow by 21 per cent a year between 2023 and 2028. It will be worth $284 billion in 2026.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, people spend longer on their phones than most other markets.

People in Saudi Arabia spend five hours and 16 minutes a day on smartphones, according to data from We Are Social and Meltwater. They are on social media for 37 percent of that time, followed by entertainment apps (35 per cent), utilities (11 per cent), mobile games (9 per cent) and shopping apps (1 per cent).

For advertisers there are a number of advantages to advertising to people while they are using apps, over when they are using a web browser.

The ads themselves are more engaging and there are a variety of formats. These can include interstitial ads, where a video plays between levels of a game; rewarded ads, where an app rewards you with tokens or credit if you watch an ad; native ads that look like the user-generated content of a social app such as Facebook; and interactive ads where you can ‘play’ or otherwise engage with the content rather than passively viewing or reading it.

Publift reports that in-app ads have a click-through rate of 0.56 per cent (meaning that percentage of people who see the ads click on them), more than double the 0.23 per cent click-through rate of mobile web ads. 

There is also an understanding between users and app developers that advertising helps pay for the apps.

Many publishers use a “freemium” model where the basic version of an app is free, and is funded by the advertising served to its users. Upgrades often remove or reduce the number of ads.

In Mena, users evidently appreciate free apps. The most recent regional report from, a mobile marketing company, shows that while downloads and time on apps in the GCC grew by 4 per cent and 8 per cent respectively in 2022, in-app consumer spend was down by 5 per cent.

Another advantage in-app advertising has held for some time over mobile web ads is the amount of audience data it can gather.

The more information advertisers have about those to whom they are serving their ads, the better for them. With the right data they can target people according to their demographics, their online behaviour, their reaction to previous ads and more. 

Data allows advertisers to make sure they don’t bombard individual users with the same ad too often, to measure the success of campaigns and to attribute user behaviour to the ads they see.

The Middle East is a region that loves its phones, spends a huge amount of time on apps and likes those apps to be ad-funded.

Brands that understand and capitalise on this can stay ahead of the digital marketing curve.

Austyn Allison is an editorial consultant and journalist who has covered Middle East advertising since 2007

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