Tag Archives: mobile ads

Mobile ads…please stop sucking. Five tips for making mobile ads better.

mobile ads

I play a lot of solitaire on my iPhone.

It’s my go-to game when I’m taking the train, talking to someone boring or just passing the time mindlessly.

Sure there are other games out there, like the insanely addictive Pokemon Go.

But I can’t be walking around tryin’ to catch ’em all, walking into people and draining my battery in the process.

And I really am not about the brightly colored, sensory stimulating, action/adventure games in abundance in the App Store.

I’m good with a simple game of solitaire.

I play a free version of the game created by MobilityWare.


Because it’s free, between each game – win or lose – they serve an ad.

I’ve played well over 10,000 games of solitaire, so I’ve seen thousands of ads.


Some of the ads are for other games, apps, insurance, cars, television shows or movies.


Some are static ads, video, or interactive surveys or animated game tutorials.


Most of the time I just ignore them, but recently, I’ve been paying attention and I’ve noticed something interesting: mobile ads suck.

More accurately, the companies that serve mobile ads suck.

I know I’m generally a caustic dude, prone to being overly critical.

But in this instance, I’m being particularly objective.

Mobile. Ads. Suck.

A few months ago, a recruiter reached out to me about a position with a company which specialized in mobile ads.

Their client was looking for someone with deep native mobile experience and wanted to forward my resume.

When she sent along the job description, I checked them out and thought it made sense to do some research.

If they called me in, I could articulate what I thought about the current state of mobile ads and not sound like a total dolt.

So I started to pay attention to the ads being served between my countless games of solitaire.

What I observed was that mobile ads suffer from all types of fuckery.

But these are the top five offenses I observed (and things you should avoid if you’re serving mobile ads in your app).

1. Size matters. A mobile screen is small. So why wouldn’t your ad fill  the entire screen? If you’re trying to make an impact, you’re not going to do it by forcing users to strain their eyes to make out your shitty ad. Make sure that the ad platform or service you use delivers high quality, fully scaled content that fits the dimensions of the screens being served.

So UPS, what were you planning on doing with the other 1/3 of the screen?

So UPS, what were you planning on doing with the other 1/3 of the screen?

2. Orientation. I typically play solitaire in portrait mode. And for the most part, the ads that are served automatically mirror the orientation of my screen. But every so often, there’s one that doesn’t. Not only is the ad in the wrong orientation, but it’s also locked in that orientation, forcing me to turn my screen to watch/read it or access the exit button. If you’re delivering mobile ads, be sure that they’re not in a fixed position. And if the optimal viewing perspective is portrait (or landscape), make sure that you’re not forcing your user to only view it in that orientation.

This ad started off in landscape mode, but re-orientated, when I turned my screen.

This ad started off in landscape mode, but re-orientated, when I turned my screen.

3. Give us free! One of my absolute pet peeves is when there is no way to exit out of an ad. Most ads have an “X” prominently displayed on he screen when they show up, allowing me to immediately close it and resume playing solitaire. Others have a slight delay, with the “X” appearing about five seconds after the ad is displayed. But the offenders have no means of exiting their ads or worse still, when you do click on the “X” another ad appears forcing you to exit it again! Motherfuckers! Can I play my solitaire? Always give your users an out.

I thought that pressing the x in the upper right hand corner would do the trick, but no!

I thought that pressing the x in the upper right hand corner would do the trick, but no!

The trick was on me. I had to exit out of this ad twice!

The trick was on me. I had to exit out of this ad twice!


How about this ad with no “x” at all!

4. Short and sweet. Have you seen those ‘countdown’ ads, which show you how much time remains in the ad? How about the ones which count down how much time before you can exit out of them? Presumably, they do this because they know folks have short attention spans and don’t want to suffer through ads. And these are the better ones! Many ads are just too long and for no good reason. Ads are intrusive and if you’re going to intrude, make sure its no longer than it has to be. Best practice says a video ad shouldn’t be more than 15 seconds, and if you’re going to be delivering ads between content, make sure users can exit out at will. Per Tip No. 4, don’t make them watch to the end if they don’t want to.

5. Call to action. The point of any ad is to get the viewer to do something after they engage the ad. This engagement is the call to action. It’s the thing you want the viewer to do, the step you want them to take or behavior you want them to engage in. So many ads had obtuse, ill placed or no call to action at all. Don’t be among this group and make sure you have a clear, unambiguous, prominently placed call to action in your ad.

"See All"? That's your call to action? Boo Hiss!

“See All”? That’s your call to action? Boo Hiss!

So there you have it, the top five tips for not having sucky mobile ads.

If you’re managing ads yourself, observe these tips. If you’re working with a mobile ad network, make sure you’ve got the ability to review the ads being served to make sure that they meet these standards.

Feel free to share your experiences with mobile ads and any tips you might have for making them better.

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Filed under advertising, mobile ads, opinion, social media

Make ’em watch! How to make money with mobile ads.


I was reading an article in AdAge this morning about how mobile is overtaking TV in terms of the amount of time spent on each.

The article reviewed this trend, and specifically examined the disconnect between the amount of time spent and the amount of revenue generated on mobile.

What should otherwise be a boon for mobile advertisers, is actually something of a conundrum, as marketers have yet to figure out how to translate the time (spent on mobile) into revenue.

Since mobile has less real estate to work with, embedding ads that are visible and compelling is a challenge.

Moreover, convincing advertisers to switch from TV to mobile, in the absence of empirical support for that reallocation is a hard sell.

But all is not lost.

If mobile advertisers are looking for ways to increase click-through rates (I know click-through rates aren’t really for mobile – bear with me), there is a fool proof strategy they can employ.

Force users to watch their ads.

That’s right, I said force.

Sure, no one asked me my opinion, but I’m going to give it anyway.

Advertisers need to use more video on mobile and make people watch.

And do away with static ads altogether.


I’ll tell ya.

Now gather round…

I’ve found that the most effective ads on mobile are video ads.

And the most effective video ads are the ones which don’t give you the option of canceling or closing them until they’re done.

The next most effective are those that give you a time-delayed option, before revealing your opt-out option (the little “x” on the screen).

Efficacy in Stephen’s world is defined by users viewing (and not automatically canceling) an ad in its entirety.

YouTube uses these “mandatory watch” and “time-delayed skip” options effectively in their videos, and mobile advertisers would be well advised to model their behavior.

In addition, mobile advertisers need to adopt a “takeover” mentality.

If they’re going to serve an ad, serve it.

Don’t be shy about taking over the user’s screen.

While most would agree that users don’t want ads and pop ups, few would argue that ads and pop ups are an interruption that people have come to tolerate and accept.

Take me for instance.

I play solitaire on my iPhone all the time.

It’s a free version, so between every hand, there’s an ad.

Most are simple overlays or pop ups, advertising other games or apps, that I close almost reflexively.

But increasingly, the ads being served are videos from car makers, insurance carriers, and the like.

And they employ both mandatory and time delayed opt-out watch options.

Generally, ads are no longer than fifteen seconds (which seems like an eternity when I’m trying to get to my next hand) seem to offend me the least.

I find myself sitting patiently through them until either (a) they’re done or (b) that little black “x” appears on the screen.

Sometimes, I’ll watch until the “x”‘appears.

At others, if its engaging, I’ll watch all the way to the end.

And every so often (and this is rare) I’ll actually respond to the call to action or follow the link at the end.

I’m sure I’m like most people.

If the content is good, I’ll watch, read or listen to an ad without objection.

If its crap, I’ll skip it.

The issue (for me) is both form and substance.

So (in my opinion) the objective for marketers trying to drive engagement and conversions with mobile ads is twofold: (1) make interesting engaging ads, preferably video, and (2) force people to watch by adding time delayed (or no) opt-out options.

Now we could go deeper down the rabbit hole (as AdAge does) to explore the differences between serving ads in apps versus ads in mobile web, but that’s for the Master Class.

Suffice it to say, applying desktop rules of engagement for mobile ads is a losing strategy, and brands would do well to rethink how they’re targeting mobile users.

Or simply hire me.

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Filed under mobile, mobile ads