update: you can track all the crappy mobile ads here, if you are interested (and many seem interested)

How many years will it take until we see the banner die as we know it on our mobile screens?

The lack of real discovery efficiency (yes, the App stores are far from doing enough…) has forced developers to look after efficient [and sometimes too efficient but not legit] Paid discovery solutions

But over half a decade after the iPhone, amazing hardware and software innovations the mobile ad world is still stuck in the past with the good old banner and advertising technologies. 

What’s wrong with banners?

Mobile ads are UGLY

Banners are ugly. They eat the chunk of real estate of the app, They offer little real estate for a clear message. 

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Beautiful apps become ugly because of mobile ads. Here is an example from Instaweather, a gorgeous weather app, they developers have decided to ruin with crapy ads

IMG 0018

But let’s go beyond the design factor. There is something worse. They are brutally killing the user experience

App publishers may think of ads as something that is not part of their app. But they are. Users will perceive that way

Ads, like the app the developer builds, are also a message the developers send to the users.  And it is a bad one. It says “get out of my app”, “don’t stay here” and it ruins the experience of 99% of the users who decide to ignore and can’t ignore it (banners can t be removed)

Well that would be cool if the place the developers send too was great or better. But it is not. The experience is actually pretty bad. 

Users are forced out of the app, go to the App store to download an app and then are left with 2 choices. a. Start from scratch with a new app b. try to find where they left before they clicked on a ad

And how about those ads clicked by accident because they are where they are not supposed to be. This has forced Google to introduce a TWO CLICK banner experience. Nice Band Aid. What a TERRIBLE TERRIBLE IDEA.


How is that for a good user experience?

Mobile ads are DUMB

How many times have you seen an ad and said to yourself “i don’t want to see this specific ad EVER again”, or “mmm, ok i like this, but not right now” or even worse “Why do i see a banner of an app i already own” [eg Facebook ads…]

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The reality is that no matter how sophisticated the mobile app ecosystem is, mobile ads are still in the prehistory phase. They are served by dated ad serving technologies which were built for the desktop and the cookies (the tracking files on your computer).

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They are served mostly with the purpose of driving installs but ignoring the 99% who do not install apps.

Mobile ads are TIME CONSUMING

If your attention is limited on the desktop it is even more on the mobile. So Advertisers have figured out that if you don’t pay attention to mobile banners maybe a nice little video will be cool. But guess what on the mobile, the attention generosity of the average user is not even a fraction of that available on the desktop

Users don’t want to wait 15 sec to see a video. Not even 10 secs. 

Oh, yes…Well a magical solution has been found to solve this: rewarding users to watch videos….is that the best that can be done to solve the “mobile ads suck” problem?

Rewarding users is surely a nice patch, a good band aid but that works only with a small fraction of the inventory out there and that is certainly the right way to grow the ecosystem at scale (how many publishers can put 10 sec videos in their app? localize them,…). And let’s not bet that the future of mobile advertising is rewarded advertising…

Mobile ads are NOT RESPECTFUL

Have you ever seen the banner below? 

IMG 0001


Seriously? This banner is advertising an app that has always been free. and it is not FREE TODAY.

Users are not dumb. You can’t just disrespect users and just expect to get crazy results in return. Those kind of manipulative tricks are done. Who is the Ad network? Who is the advertiser? Give me a reason to believe that this app is FREE TODAY? [of course it is not..]

Developers who show ads like those or decide to ignore them because they receive a check at the end of the month should simply be ashamed.

The problem is that because the ad industry is driven with the only goal to drive app installs and not engaged users, that ends up in all kind of crappy creative and bad faith from advertisers and ad networks

This has to end. Maybe regulators will look at this closer. Apple and Google, for example should be more regarding in that matter

Mobile ads are NOT TRANSPARENT

How many times have you seen an ad and immediately identified who was the ad network behind it? It is sometimes possible (e.g. Google) but it is really hard and very very rare. Most of the time consumer (and even developers who host those banners) will have no clue who is the network serving the banner because of various parameters like mediation layers technology or because ad network have a vested interest in not being identified

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Why does that matter? because User have to have a chance to opt out, Users have to have a chance to know with whom they enter in contract with.

Mobile Ads are NOT DISCLOSED

An ad should be identified as an ad. And not confused with content or something else. There are laws about this topic. 

So in theory users should know when an ad is an ad. But that is far from a common practice. How many time did you see an offer wall, of even a full screen ads and it was not even presented as advertising. Those formats let you guess whatever you want

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But they are not clearly saying ADS BY ….

Another example with “Offer walls” this marvel of the 21st century. Do you think users know those are ads?

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Are those ads? 


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Mobile Ads are NOT LOCALIZED

Most smartphone users are not in the USA. But most big Ad networks are in the USA. You can’t just expect to show a banner in english to a Spanish user and expect him to love it. 

Oh, yes. It requires a little more work and little more time. But all that is creating is more hate from users towards mobile ads.

So Why doesn’t it change?

Because money flow in and because it is easy for developers to just take whatever is available . For now. But that won’t last


Facebook, thanks to a nice integrated ad format that suck less and intelligent proprietary targeting has created a user experience that has basically broken the status quo. Most Ad Networks have seen money bleeding out for the past 12 months

Developers will soon have more difficulty in making money through traditional ads and they will be forced to look at different solutions. 

Even Mobile App developer think Mobile ads suck

We ran a poll with 500 seasoned developers. And about half of them think they suck. They are either unhappy for any reason about the current status or think they damage the user experience

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So it is not just users who really ignore them and don’t like them. 

Those who make apps are also far from being convinced by any solution the market currently brings

Oh and don’t take just our word for it. Just a run a Google search for “Mobile ads suck”

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There is even a conference to talk about this topic, with people smarter than we are in a few weeks in San Francisco



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The vague promise of native advertising

So everyone is now expecting the next big thing in advertising looking in Facebook direction: Native ads.

The problem is that the same mistake are being made. Read Above.

Native advertising should be about providing a compelling user experience, an intelligent end to end experience from the exposure of the ad to the post download experience.

Native advertising should be feel native and “integrated” both in terms of where it is placed and how (fast) it is served. But it should not be confused with content. It’s hard to solve this at scale…except if you want to take shortcuts [Facebook for example did by placing ads that are all but social in their social network. But that s a long debate]

Saying you provide native advertising because you have an SDK with a few lines of code and a crafted banner is far from enough.

Mobile ads will always suck. But they can suck a little less.

The reality is that Mobile ads (like any ads) will always be a nuisance to users – even with incentives. But users can tolerate ads. They have been trained by years or radio and TV. The question is how can you make the 90% of users or decide to ignore them, hate them a little less?

How can the industry as a whole, focus more on those who hate ads and really improve the experience and not just be obsessed by the 10% who are clicking?

Those are tough questions and no one has the right answer. But it certainly has to do with thinking about the user first and not just the performance for the advertiser driven with the objective to reach a maximum number of downloads or a top rank in the app store. The day developers will bring the same level of care about how ads are integrated in their apps as to the way they build apps, maybe a significant step will be reached.

And that will happen when the ad industry will help developers by creating services who deeply care for users.

Appsfire is currently working on something new. We hope to share more details soon.


  • Bachus

    Ok, you think advertising sucks. We get it. Feeling better now?

    • OurielOhayon

      nope. We ll feel better when we ll have put together our plan to solve this

      Ok. Eric?

    • Carl

      Hmm… unless you can come up with a solution, I wouldn’t be so fast to say “we get it.” Clearly it’s an immensely complex, new, dynamic issue that few people (if any) understand fully.

      • OurielOhayon

        it is a damn complex issue and we don t have the pretention to solve it in one day. Ads will always suck. but we have the ambition to do things that will make them suck a little less. There won t be any magical solution here….but the devil is in the details and in the execution

  • jesper

    Yet another great article! In most part I agree with you, but when it comes to transparency there are actually several good solutions out there for developers. We’re using an ad verification solution from geoedge, and have now a complete view of all ads inside our apps and the networks that serves them. A great help to block networks that breaks our advertising policies.

  • André

    Thanks guys! Good article. This inspired me to write a reply:

  • Custom Facebook Page

    Most important quote I’ve read on mobile advertising in months, By offering advertisements through ad networks that are designed from the ground up to compliment not disrupt the user experience, your advertising dollars lead to more conversions, better brand authority, and more repeat customers. I don’t think its any coincidence that the ad networks that understand this…

  • frank

    Great stuff… But after all this bashing toward mobile ads, I kept reading and hoping you were going to bring up your magical solution…. Which would be a great balance between delivering a good UX and a good potential revenue solution for publishers. YEah! that is right… I noticed there is no ads on your blog, which between you and me, it’s amazing. But I am still wondering how can you make this a living… ? Website’s publishers and webmasters spend several hours trying to deliver quality content to their audience… Some makes more effort than others… The web wouldn’t be as great if all the publishers was doing charity, just like you… and deliver free content all the time.. People need to live, pay food, rent…
    You can bash as long as you want on ads being disruptive, creating a bad user experience etc… But if you don’t have any magical solution to fix the problem, it’s probably because there is none… Mobile marketing is a XX Billion market a year, ads are there to stay… Unless you are willing to pay a subscription fees to any site(s) (with great content) you want to visit… there will be rarely no ad free website… In other words, bash as long as you want…. Your post is just like any other one talking about the same subject.. but as a publisher, I need to earn from visitors, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it anymore just for fun… just like you do. and if you don’t have any “new” solution in your head then just don’t post write anything… FB, Google, Yahoo.. has thousand’s and thousand’s of employees working on finding the next solution… It’s not here yet… The question should be why? Mainly because devices are small and there is not 100’s of methods…

    • OurielOhayon

      Well there is not “magic formula”. If you ask users they ads will always suck and interrupt whatever they do. What users want is a world without ads, what they don t know is that they can totally tolerate ads in a free world so the question is about making ads suck a little less and a little more enjoyable if possible