Nineteen-year-old Vancouver native Brian Wong believes the future of mobile advertising isn't in the banner ad, but inside video games.
And so far, his company Kiip (pronounced keep) has convinced the likes of Dr. Pepper, GNC, Sephora, Sony and 1-800-Flowers.com to give their wares away to gamers who beat a tricky level or set new high scores.
The exposure from pop-up offers giving away free products is far more effective for marketers than ads that are rarely clicked, Wong maintains.
"Here I am in New York sitting in front of top media execs and brand marketers trying to convince them that giving away free stuff is a viable business model," laughed Wong on Monday, as Kiip went public and began rolling out its in-game ads.
Wong has not yet revealed which 15 mobile games Kiip has been integrated into, although he said there will be "an exciting announcement" in two weeks about specific titles and publishers.
Kiip is insisting that advertisers give away products of real value, Wong said. He argues that such gifts will encourage other purchases and build customer loyalty. The least expensive freebie currently on offer is valued at about $5, he added.
"I had people come up to us and say 'Ooh, let's give away five per cent coupons,' and I said, 'Absolutely not, that's not what we're all about,' We're not a coupon distribution channel, we're about value, we're about rewards, we're about gifting, we're about making people feel like they've received something meaningful," Wong said.
"So it was then a challenge of curation and bringing together great partners. That's why we came out all guns blazing with amazing brands because people take one look at these brands and go, 'Wow, this is actually real, these are top-tier consumer brands not a bunch of random retailers we've never heard of."'
Canadians probably won't see Kiip ads in games until later this year, although Wong said national brands "with a major presence in Canada" are onboard.
Wong said he's looking forward to heading home for Mother's Day next month, to celebrate his mom and an amazing year for the entrepreneur.
It was around this time last year that Wong, who moved to San Francisco at 18 for a job with the website Digg, was laid off about four months into the gig. He had yet to tell his parents the bad news when he returned home to see his mom.
"I'm not going to lie, dude, obviously getting laid off at the age of 19 is not something I recommend, it's not a good experience. It was a very shocking thing that happened, I thought I was going to be at this company to build my career, a foundation of experience and meet many great people," Wong said.
"It was very difficult, and then you have to tell your entire family. I remember coming back home a day before Mother's Day without my parents actually knowing because I couldn't bring myself to tell them.
"I told my parents when I got home and my mom told me it was the worst Mother's Day present she'd ever gotten."
But this year, the family has reasons to be popping champagne. Last week, Kiip announced that it had secured $4-million (U.S.) in investment funding.
"This year has been a lot better than last year," said Wong. "(Getting laid off) was a dip in my career but I think it was the best opportunity I could get."
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