By Sadhana Chathurvedula

Bengaluru: InMobi Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a mobile advertising technology firm, on Thursday said it has shuttered the animated-discovery commerce part of Miip for now, a product it launched amid much fanfare in July last year.

Instead, the firm will look to help e-commerce companies reach inactive customers using more traditional ad formats, using the underlying technology it built for the platform.

In July, InMobi launched a beta version of Miip, which took the form of an animated monkey, that tracked users’ browsing habits across various mobile apps and showed ads in the forms of bubbles and animations instead of traditional display ads. It allowed consumers to interact with the mascot and tell it what they liked, and how they felt about the products and ads they saw.

The promise of such a technology was that first, it enabled personalised discovery of products, and second, the completion of purchases within the ad itself as InMobi had tied up with payments providers like Stripe, AliPay and Paytm.

This hasn’t worked out.

“The larger vision behind Miip is to enable consumers to buy products and complete transactions through ads. The mascot was conceptualized simply as a ‘face’ to the Miip platform. Over the course of testing, users responded better to an advertiser’s brand as against the Miip branding on an ad unit," said Arun Pattabhiraman, vice president and global head of marketing, InMobi.

“If we look at what the need of the hour is, we realised that for the advertisers, transactions need to happen at the right RoI (return on investment). And for us, we need to be ensuring discovery happens. It is a learning that we have had, given that it will take time to establish Miip as an independent brand, we have deferred the usage of the mascot on our ads," Pattabhiraman added.

InMobi is not alone, though. Globally, ‘buy’ buttons that enable retailers to sell goods directly in social networking and content apps, haven’t done too well. Last month, technology publication Recode reported that Twitter, which also had these, disbanded the team working on the ‘buy’ buttons. Recode also reported that Facebook and Pinterest’s ‘buy’ buttons haven’t gathered steam either.

The level of data that had to be exchanged was the main hindrance, said Naveen Tewari, chief executive officer, InMobi.

“We stay very focused on this vision of conversational commerce but we go down this product roadmap to get there. For conversational commerce to take place, the level of data that’s required in our system, even more importantly the connected data between our system and other systems, that itself will take a lot of time. Today, we are doing a simple version of CRM, remarketing, that’s needed to start off things, but every one of these steps is to get to that level," said Tewari.

InMobi has partnered with 15 companies around the world that use Miip, of which it named three – fashion e-tailer Myntra, payments firm Paytm, and a Chinese firm, Nuomi.

Its plan now is to focus on helping e-commerce companies make the most of their users by targeting them across 1.5 billion mobile devices it reaches, with the help of remarketing technology. Using these, consumers are shown ads that mimic product listings on commerce sites, where they can browse too, but the final transaction happens on the retailer’s app. InMobi claims that using Miip, Myntra drove about 1,000 transactions a day, and saw a $7 return on every $1 of spending on advertisements.

InMobi was also in the news for its troubles with attrition, claims which its CEO Tewari refuted. “Our attrition is at 6.8%. We have the most stable senior management team compared to a lot of companies," he said.

The advertising technology business globally has been in a slump with shares of some of the largest companies – including Rocket Fuel Inc. – plummeting, and most of the advertising dollars being channeled to Facebook and Google; almost 85 cents for every dollar spent by one estimate according to report in the New York Times.

InMobi now has to compete with the giants, as well as the smaller players for the same set of eyeballs, amid greater pressure as venture funding also slows down.

Experts say its focus on e-commerce might pay off as e-commerce companies are under immense pressure to drive revenues right now, which is possible with the help of advertising technology. Although firms such as Flipkart and Snapdeal are building out their own ad-tech stacks, it requires a lot of time, effort and expertise, and is not a core area for their businesses.

“With the Miip product they tried to create a differentiator but without that, it’s a tough field because this sort of re-marketing is a fairly standard model. There is a lot of competition from Google and Facebook who are trying to monetise every bit of a smartphone," said Satish Meena, forecast analyst at Forrester Research.

“However, if the e-commerce play works out for them it’ll be good, because it’ll be a win-win situation as both InMobi and the e-commerce companies will generate revenues," said Meena.