A Complete Overview of the Mainstream Vertical
The Mainstream vertical is a tried-and-true affiliate marketing powerhouse, with roots stretching back to the early days of the industry. It’s a hot choice for newcomers and pros alike due to its versatility, ease of entry and generally high levels of success.
The top Mainstream affiliates are flexible and capable of exploiting many opportunities across multiple GEOs, always looking for the killer campaigns hiding among the thousands of offers out there.
It’s especially hot right now, so don’t hesitate if you’re looking to diversify. Thanks to its profitability and ease of entry, the vertical has been extremely popular since we launched it 3 years ago - we’ve had to expand our dedicated team multiple times to accommodate the sharp rise in revenue and interest!
Understanding how it all works - from billing flows to product types and beyond - can help you get a strong foothold in this profitable, opportunity-rich vertical.
A vertical by many names
First, some clarification.
The Mainstream vertical has many names in the industry, of which most are sub-verticals that have become large enough to be considered a standalone vertical: PIN Submits, LeadGen, CC Submits, Mobile Content, Mobile Subscriptions, Premium Content, etc.
When someone refers to Mainstream, they may be specifically referring to one of the sub-verticals. Because of the similarities between these sub-verticals (including flows, traffic sources and high level of GEO dependency), they are lumped into one title: Mainstream. As such, you may already have experience in some aspects of the vertical.
Where it all began
Do you remember the Crazy Frog?
Don’t worry, we’re happy to remind you:
It all started here. Ringtones set the blueprint for Mainstream products. The Crazy Frog, for example:
- Had broad appeal
- Was available to anyone with a phone
- Could be purchased easily
- Charged customers on a subscription model
The smashing success of ringtones - particularly among early affiliate programs - launched a selling model that has expanded to include hundreds of similarly appealing products.
Of course, times change. Ringtones are passé these days.
The Mainstream vertical is constantly adapting with up-to-date offers, making it a solid choice for media buying beginners seeking an early big win as well as seasoned professionals who are continuously adapting. One strong campaign can deliver huge profits, though finding success across many small campaigns is also a viable way to earn steady income. It’s all about using tips from your AM and testing properly.
The major players
Each party in the Mainstream vertical profits in a different way.
- Carriers pick up the cash from the customers, charging them directly for the mobile content and products they have purchased. They take a cut from the advertiser whose product is being sold.
- Advertisers profit from the sales of their products. They work with the carrier to ensure regulations are followed, and they work with networks to gain traffic for their offers. In some cases, they may earn money by selling leads they generate from offers to other advertisers.
- Affiliates earn a commission on the new customers they provide. Payouts depend on the value of the acquired customer and difficulty of conversions.
- Sponsors purchase leads from advertisers, then sell relevant products to those leads.
- Affiliate networks help affiliates and advertisers improve profits by matching the right traffic to the right offers. The best Mainstream networks have offers in many GEOs, with global coverage being the golden standard - they help advertisers gain greater reach and grant affiliates access to high-converting offers.
Once you understand the motivations of each player, you can better serve their interests - improving your own bottom line while earning a name for yourself as a Mainstream mastermind!
Mainstream sub-verticals (the “what” and the “why”)
Mainstream products can be split into three categories, or sub-verticals:
- Mobile Content
- Lead Generation
Each sub-vertical has its own billing flow, products, and regulations. In this section, we’ll cover the essential products that power each of these sub-verticals. Later, we’ll cover the way they’re sold.
Mobile content is the largest sub-vertical, encompassing a massive range of products. Payouts range depending on the difficulty of conversion, value of the offer and the GEO. Conversion rates are often very high, traffic is cheap enough to test liberally, and a good campaign can scale aggressively.
- Antivirus apps
- Sweepstakes (e.g. “Win an iPhone” offers)
- Battery Boosters
Some products have disappeared over time, while new ones are constantly coming out. Be on the lookout for the next big trend - keeping close ties with your AM can help you spot it first!
With LeadGen, the name of the game is… uh… getting names!
Advertisers generate lists of names using targeted offers promoted by affiliates. These offers are usually related to:
- Travel websites
- Fashion websites
- Call centers
- Daily deal aggregators
- Professional services
The primary intentions of LeadGen campaigns are to expand their customer database, make more sales and reach new audiences.
LeadGen companies make money by reselling their leads to B2C companies and third-party mailers (email database owners), or by monetizing the leads internally.
Notice that the sale doesn’t occur on the spot. It’s the customer’s value as a potential client that matters most. Due to the large scale, it’s not always easy to determine how valuable a customer will be. As such, closely monitoring feedback is essential to optimizing campaigns. Networks play a key role in keeping affiliates and advertisers satisfied in this regard.
Like Trial models in the Health & Beauty flow, Mainstream Trials offer customers a chance to enjoy a particular subscription or product for free. Once their free trial period ends, their paid subscription begins.
Typical Trial products include:
- Streaming services
- Video on-demand
The goal behind Trial campaigns is to acquire new customers and expand the advertiser’s database.
Billing flows (the ever-important “how”)
The way a product is sold depends on the billing flow, making it an important consideration when choosing an offer to run. Not only can the flow change the campaign and your creatives, it can allow or disallow certain types of traffic or GEOs.
There are five primary billing flows (ways in which customers are charged, or leads are collected):
- Direct Carrier Billing (DCB) - including 1-click, 2-click, MO Flow and PIN Submit
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
- Single Opt-In (SOI)
- Double Opt-In (DOI)
- CC Submit
Let’s look at which sub-verticals use which billing flows.
For the most part, Mobile Content uses two distinct flows: DCB and IVR. It’s important to note that in most cases, conversions that involve a carrier must be completed on a mobile network. There are exceptions, but this means that in general, mobile traffic is more effective than WiFi traffic.
Flow #1: Direct Carrier Billing (DCB)
DCB involves the customer being charged directly on their monthly phone bill after agreeing to a service. The mobile services provider (carrier) and the GEO are of critical concern in this process.
The carriers in a particular GEO must go through regulators to ensure compliance before they may run advertisers’ offers. Carriers are based in one GEO, while advertisers offer products in many GEOs. The affiliate network is key in overseeing traffic quality, and the affiliate is responsible for running a campaign congruent with the advertiser’s wishes that complies with regulations.
With DCB, advertisers must work directly with mobile carriers. This can pose a challenge for advertisers; ever-changing local regulations can impact what they may sell, and they are reliant on cooperation from the carriers.
As carriers are based locally, GEOs are very important in Mainstream. Partnering with an affiliate network is essential. There’s no other way to capture all the opportunities as they pop up around the world.
There are four ways DCB offers can convert:
- 1-click and 2-click (aka “MSISDN flow”)
- MO flow
- PIN Submit (aka “MT flow”)
The most popular are 1-click and 2-click, so advertisers prefer them when possible. They’re not available in every GEO, though, so mastering all the DCB flows will open up a world of opportunities (literally).
The 1-click flow allows customers to register for a service or purchase a product simply by clicking once on an offer page. It’s one of the easiest flows to convert, but it comes at the risk of accidental conversions (in which the customer did not intend to sign up for the subscription or purchase the product). This results in poor-quality traffic and customer complaints.
If you run 1-click offers, be sure your campaign is set up properly to ensure you only attract customers interested in the offer.
Lately, the 2-click flow has begun to dominate Mainstream offers, mostly due to increased regulations (for example, the majority of European offers are 2-click). This format prevents complaints (which usually come from accidental 1-click customers) and ensures higher-quality traffic for the advertiser.
Of course, 2-click flows are more difficult to convert due to the extra step, but the payout usually reflects the increased challenge.
The MO Flow requires the customer to confirm their offer signup via SMS. This adds a step, making the conversions more difficult to obtain, but it is necessary to comply with regulations and prevents accidental conversions (which only seem sweet in the short run).
When a customer visits a PIN Submit offer page, they are prompted to submit their details. They’ll receive a message with a PIN code - to complete the offer (and register a conversion for the affiliate), they must return to the offer and submit the PIN.
This is the most difficult DCB flow to convert on in most GEOs, as the user must take the unique action of returning to the page (rather than simply clicking “yes” twice or replying to a direct SMS).
Flow #2: Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
Under the IVR flow, customers are prompted to call the advertiser on a line run by a quiz robot. They answer questions on the phone using the phone’s keypad, and the longer they stay on the phone, the bigger their chance of winning a certain item gets.
The LeadGen sub-vertical focuses on… wait for it… generating leads!
These “leads” take the form of a potential customer’s details. Most leads are gathered through exciting sweepstakes offers, which include a disclaimer that the customer’s details will be used for marketing purposes.
Leads are monetized by directly re-selling to the customer or selling the leads (usually in an email list) to another advertiser (called a “Sponsor”) for remarketing purposes. Example Sponsors include insurance companies, energy suppliers and enterprises with an interest in targeting a broad range of users.
There are two primary flows:
- Single Opt-In (SOI)
- Double Opt-In (DOI)
Advertisers are looking for valuable leads - people with strong buying intent. That means it’s especially important to match the right traffic source to the right offer.
Flow #1: SOI
Like 1-click, Single Opt-In offers require the customer to enter their information once. They fill in their information on an opt-in page and send it directly to the advertiser. The affiliate gets paid once this happens.
SOI is easy to convert, but it’s difficult to control traffic quality and payouts are lower.
Flow #2: DOI
Double Opt-In protects against unintentional conversions and fraud by adding an extra step. To complete a Double Opt-In offer, the customer must first submit their details, then confirm them (usually via email or SMS).
DOI leads are more valuable, as the customer has confirmed that they’re a real person who is actively interested in the offer (and thus, the general type of product that the leads are generated to sell).
Trials are run under one primary flow: Credit Card (CC) Submits.
They run on a similar model to many Health & Beauty (aka Nutra) products. For an in-depth look at Trial models, check out our article on the Health & Beauty flow.
Here’s the typical process:
- The potential customer is served an ad for a service (e.g. streaming or online radio).
- They visit the offer page and submit their credit card details to start their free trial.
- After the free trial period expires, their credit card is charged for the subscription.
That last step is most important. If the customer does not cancel the trial before the designated period (usually 14 days), they are charged for their subscription. This is called a rebill, and it’s how advertisers make money.
Rebills are the gold standard for determining traffic quality. The number of customers who sign up for a free trial may seem important, but the number of customers who maintain active, paying subscriptions are the real target. Advertisers typically seek a rebill rate of 60% or higher.
Mastering the Mainstream vertical in 5 quick tips
Now that you’re familiar with the top Mainstream sub-verticals and flows, it’s time to optimize! Here are our top five tips for establishing a strong presence in this popular vertical:
1. Regulations, regulations, regulations
Regulations can change everything overnight. Stay on top of local laws and be aware when new offers open up. (Hint: regulations can get tighter, but they can also get looser…)
2. Testing traffic
In the mainstream vertical, everyone is a prospect. That opens up your possible traffic sources immensely. Keep testing various options with multiple offers to find the winning combo. Don’t go in blind! Your AM likely has some valuable insight on what’s converting.
3. Get to know the flow
This article is a good start, but you’ll really grasp the various flows once you start running them. 1-click and SOI are popular ways to grab profits, but there’s a lot more out there. Test the flows and learn them well.
4. Watch the market
New products are inspired by what people are interested in. Is there a new iPhone coming out? Start brainstorming angles, because you know there will be lots of offers tied to it.
5. Scale to win
Every super affiliate remembers “the big one” - the campaign that kick-started their trip to the top. With lots of offers and cheap traffic, you should hit the green quickly. Don’t miss your chance to milk a hot combination while it’s converting! If your network provides good payment plans and flexible AMs, you should have no problem scaling big.
Advidi’s Mainstream dream team
We have a huge presence in Mainstream. Our dedicated team is constantly on the ball, seeking new opportunities for affiliates and advertisers.
If you’re an affiliate, we can help you improve your bottom line with:
- Exclusive offers and early access: The early bird gets the worm. We’re stacked with exclusive offers, allowing you to take the lion’s share of the market.
- Fast payment terms: Don’t let the big one slip away. Take full advantage of winning campaigns with our frequent, reliable payment options.
- Targeting solutions: We put our vast experience to work for you. Monetize your traffic to the max with data-driven targeting.
- Diverse offers and GEOs: Stay on top of the changing market. Our newsletter delivers the best offers each week, while our AMs are available to help around the clock.
As an advertiser, we provide you with:
- The traffic you need: With a massive pool of affiliates based around the globe, we can help you reach the right audience at the right time.
- Security in your investment: Quit worrying about poor traffic and fraud. We monitor stats closely, ensuring that your traffic is always worth the investment.
- Proactive support: Our dedicated team is focused on making your partnership a success. We’re always looking out for ways to help you earn more money.
- Long-term partnerships: You can count on us to think about the partnership before short-term profits.