The mobile app ecosystem is still a wild jungle. See how people debate about the absence of consistent tracking solution and the UDID access.

One of the thing we observe is that many apps who run advertising do not stand by what is considered now a standard practice on the web. Advertising should be marked as such and users should know when an ad is an ad.

Would you imagine Google display sponsored search results and mixing it with its own search organic search results? Would you like to see Facebook ads not marked as Facebook ads and make you believe this is a native information brought to you by Facebook?

How can users know advertising is advertising if they are not told so by the publisher?

Take those examples below. How can you say if those are ads (in other words if the app publisher is paid to promote them) or not? Are those ads or not? They are. Wait there is more..

You see ads up there? But how can you be sure those are ads? Not convinced? Try the one below we spotted in the popular Draw Something App.

Really looks like an ad? Nope. Looks like a notification message (which is actually an ad for a dating app and points directly to the App store when you click on it – great user experience)

Open your iphone. Open a free app. It is very likely you will see something like that. Making an ad looking like a feature is just wrong. Wrong for the users, who believe this is part of the flow, wrong for the advertiser who is likely to attract confused users to his page/site/app

Sometimes this is worse, like this ad displayed in a very popular game presented as “news”. See below


Sometimes it is even more subtle as it is presented as a “more apps” or “virtual shop”. Those are ads as the App publisher gets paid for it. But the user doesn’t know it.

Some ad networks clearly mark the difference. Apple and iAd mark the Ads with an iAd label. Google with Admob (labeled Ads by Admob).  See example below


So why is this happening?

Why do app publishers behave like this with advertising? Mostly because they don’t know they have to. Sometimes because they prefer to leave a blank space and because it is in their business interest: specially in the recommendation space (music, movies, apps). Does an app recommend a product because it is really good or because you get paid for it? Impossible to guess if this is not clearly marked.

Next time you open a free app and something that looks like an ad, ask yourself this question.

The same problems rose at the time, when paid blogging landed and brands started to pay bloggers to cover their product, but that this was not disclosed properly.

Advertising is a contract between an advertiser a publisher and a user. The frontier can’t be just burried under.

So what are we going to do with that? Nothing

It is about time the IAB and other advertising organizations take a look at the mobile ad space and bring some clarity on this.

It is good for consumers, good for advertisers. It’s all about trust. But app developers can also do something about it and ask to the ad networks they work with to become clearer about their practice.

Broadcasting advertising and not saying this is advertising is just wrong.