Mobile Advertising – A Quick Overview

For the last few decades, digital advertising growth has been seemingly unstoppable. Even while desktop ad spend has slightly declined, the industry as a whole continues to grow.

How is that possible?

It’s possible due to the explosive growth of online ad spend targeting mobile devices. While online advertising ad spend targeting desktop users falls, mobile phone ad spend has been posting double-digit growth for years.

In fact, it now dwarfs desktop ad spend: over two-thirds of American online ad revenue comes from mobile.

This shift is mostly a result of changes in consumer patterns and preferences. The average American, for example, now spends 3 hours and 15 minutes on his phone per day.

Between that and the ever more widespread use of desktop adblockers, mobile users have become increasingly valuable.

In this article, we are going to review the history of mobile internet advertising, today’s most popular mobile ad types, and finally, the future of the mobile ad industry.

A little bit about phone marketing

In the beginning, mobile advertising was something of an extension of traditional phone marketing. That is to say, the original mobile advertising consisted of things like telemarketing and cold calling.

There was virtually no difference between mobile and traditional phone marketing until the development of SMS (or Short Message Service) in 1992.

Once SMS began to pick up steam, mobile and traditional phone advertising began to diverge.

The ability to send text messages, especially en masse, was a game-changer.

With telemarketing, one needs to have a caller sit on the phone and he is limited by the speed at which he can call and converse. Even an autodialer and the prerecorded message is hampered by speaking time and the number of available lines.

Whereas with text messages, masses of people could finally be reached at once.

Text advertising was mobile advertising until the development of the smartphone. And that changed everything.

The genesis of the smartphone

The first “real” smartphone was the IBM Simon. Released in 1994, this expensive tool could call, page, email, and even send faxes. Despite never reaching substantial popularity of any kind, this device can be baptized the world’s “first smartphone.”

The smartphone revolution, however, would have to wait. But the appeal of digital mobile devices would soon be discovered elsewhere.

Palm developed the precursor of the modern smartphone, the PDA (or Personal Digital Assistant), in 1996. These non-cellular but much more usable devices would see much greater market penetration than the Simon ever did.

With time these simple devices gained connectivity features, and some could connect via cellular networks and, eventually, wi-fi as well,

PDA (e.g., Palm), cellphone (e.g., Ericsson) and pager manufacturers (e.g., Blackberry) all began launching devices that could email, text, call, and browse the web in the early 2000s.

With the introduction of mobile push email, BlackBerry began to dominate the business world.

By the mid2000s BlackBerrys, Treos, and a host of other smartphones had become quite common. Through these devices, a user had relatively advanced, if limited, access to the internet.

Nevertheless, apps for phones remained difficult to install, and even mobile-optimized websites were a hassle.

This all changed in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone.

The revolutionary phone replaced the old keyboard and resistive screen combination with a single screen. This capacitive multitouch screen allowed the keyboard to be hidden when it wasn’t needed, thereby giving users significantly more screen real estate for things like watching videos.

The first iPhone had a very limited number of apps (and no third-party apps), but what it did have was a very good online browsing experience. This new online browsing experience removed many of the previous limitations that had restricted mobile internet usage growth.

Between a bigger screen, multitouch, and a browser engine optimized for mobile, a wave of new users was set to move online.

Shortly after this development, websites began working to optimize their sites for display on Apple’s new device.

The early days of mobile ads

The first digital ads for mobile were, for the most part, display and text ads that were optimized for the mobile browser’s screen limitations.

These early ads were, however, generally an afterthought. Little effort was put into their design and placement, and the user experience was far from great.

Most advertisers maintained a narrow focus on desktop.

However, this began to change as users began spending more time browsing on their phones. And this change massively accelerated with the proliferation of apps.

Third-party app party

When Steve Jobs announced the App Store in 2008, the concept of the iPhone had already been proven.

It was immensely popular and competitors were scrambling to develop something similar. The old BlackBerry, PocketPC, and Palm phones were just no match for the paradigm shift that was the iPhone.

The phone had become a computer. A real computer with a new form factor-specific means of inputting data (multitouch screen).

The only thing that was missing was a robust ecosystem of applications, as Macintosh and Windows both enjoyed. Even Palm had a relatively broad array of applications, giving it a fleeting edge against the iPhone.

This edge was not to last.

From 2008 on, companies were able to develop their own applications for iOS.

This led to a veritable boom in smartphone functionality, and with every new app, the iPhone gained new features and functionalities.

The combination of a camera, GPS, internet connectivity, and mobility led to an explosion of creative energy that resulted in numerous innovative apps and services. Each one making the iPhone more functional and feature-rich.

The launch and subsequent development of the App Store allowed Apple to bury the competition. (In the short term, anyway).

With time competitors began to launch their own App Stores. Some very successful (Android), others… not so much (Palm WebOS, Windows Phone). And with the success of the App Store, online interaction began to shift away from the browser and toward the app.

Instead of going to the New York Times’ website, you’d download their app and read their content optimized for mobile.

Instead of going to your favorite forum online, you’d download the app for their forum software and connect through that.

This shift towards apps led to a huge improvement in user experience. But it also meant that advertisers needed to adapt.

Ads within apps

And adapt they did.

As mobile app usage began to reach new heights, companies realized that users weren’t always that excited to pay for them. People had already become used to apps being free to use.

This led to the rise of “freemium”-type games. These are games that, while being free, try to encourage the user to make in-app purchases in order to unlock new features or make quicker progress.

Another way that app makers began to monetize their free-to-use apps (and advertise their paid and freemium ads) was through the use of in-app advertising.

“In-app” advertising is simply advertising within a mobile application è rather than, say, within a browser.

Nowadays, people are spending more and more time on their smartphones. And most of that time is spent on third-party apps.

For this reason, mobile online advertising has been a major source of growth over the last few years — especially in-app advertising.

A growing slice of a bigger pie

Today, growth in the online advertising industry is largely driven by mobile. Even as desktop as spend shrinks, mobile ad spend continues to increase. Right now in the United States, online advertising has become a 100 Billion dollar business and 2/3 of that is mobile.

Strong industry growth is expected even as smartphones reach market saturation in the developed world. This is largely due to current and expected growth in the developing world where cellphone use is high but smartphone ownership is low.

Due to smartphones’ much lower cost of entry and general greater utility than desktops or laptops, mobile will likely be the best way to reach these consumers.

Like desktop but different

Just like on desktop, a variety of ad forms exist within the mobile space. Mobile ad forms are in many ways significantly more complicated than desktop ads as they have to manage both browser and native in-app ads.

Both of these require different approaches. Mobile web browser ads look and behave much like miniaturized versions of their desktop counterparts.

In-App ads, on the other hand, are a whole different breed and often require a very different approach and mentality.

Browsing (ads) on the go

While mobile in-app ads now dominate the space, mobile browser traffic is still of considerable importance. Not every site has an app, and not every user wants to download and app for every site he uses.

This is a large chunk of traffic that advertisers can’t afford to miss out on. So naturally, there is a well-developed array of ad types that are available for mobile sites that want to serve ads.

Text – The display of text ads, especially with search results, comes with certain advantages on mobile. Namely that text-to-screen size is so high. This may not seem like an advantage at first, but go make a Google search on your phone. In all likelihood, the first thing that you’ll see when you make that search are text ads – and they’ll fill up either all or the majority of your screen.

This is something that would cause users to riot on desktop. But since the users here are accustomed to having to scroll a lot, Google can get away with displaying a whole screen full of ads before you even get to see your results.

Popular mobile browser ad forms

Banner – The graphic banner ad is one of the most common and popular forms of advertisement on desktop. It likewise found a place on mobile browser advertising. Due to the huge array of form factors, resolutions, and screen sizes, it can be extremely difficult to create banner images, so most have to be able to be dynamically rendered (i.e. CSS/HTML).

Sticky – This is a style of banner ad that is stuck to the bottom (or top) of the screen so that one cannot scroll past it. Instead, it stays there for all or the majority of the time that you are on the page.

These ads can work very well on mobile, but they have to be done right. Since screen size and resolution are limited, severely limiting the possible graphic art.

Popup – Pop-ups also exist on mobile, though they are a little bit less versatile compared to desktop. They generally do not open a whole new window as desktop popups do, but appear within the page itself.

Another kind of mobile “popup” is the “popunder” that opens a new tab in your mobile browser and is then found when you look through your open pages. In this way, it is not a true “popup.3

Native – Native ads have become very popular over the last few years and that’s true on mobile like anywhere else. These are ads that fit into the overall content and context of the site, so as not to disturb the user experience and to enjoy a smooth transition from content to ad and back again. Nevertheless, regulations generally require them to be marked as advertisements.

Interstitial – These are ads that are displayed between page changes. They’re common on so-called “listicles,” but on various other forms of internet real estate, as well.

The in-app ad

In-app ads are ads that appear within an app itself rather than in the mobile web browser.

This has rapidly become one of the most popular ad forms since app usage makes up such a large percentage of time spent on smartphones.

The large number of potential users, however, is not the only reason that in-app advertising has become so popular. Another major reason is the comparatively low penetration of adblockers.

While adblockers have become popular and very advanced on desktop, they are considerably less advanced on mobile. And many don’t even know that they are available on mobile.

Further, while adblockers can block mobile ads in the browser, many in-app advertisements remain almost impossible to block.

This gives in-app advertisements a very real advantage over browser-based ads (both desktop and mobile).

What does in-app advertising look like exactly? It often looks very similar to mobile browser advertising. It could be a banner, simple text, an interstitial call-to-action page redirecting to the app store… In reality, it could be any number of things.

Another advantage of in-app advertising is the ability to create extremely interactive ads. You could, for example, create an ad with a small built-in game or something to that effect. Interactivity is one of the largest advantages of in-app advertising.

This style of advertising is best suited for the advertising of other apps. In-app ads can easily and seemlessly redirect one to the app store, for example. And since you’re advertising in-app, you already know that this is a user that is willing to download and try out third-party applications.

Get started with Mobinner

The easiest way to start advertising in-app is by using a DSP, or Demand-Side Platform. Here at Mobinner, we have a long history of driving excellent conversion rates and user acquisition. So if you’re looking to get started with mobile advertising, we’re ready to help you start converting like never before.


Mobile has been the center of growth for online advertising for several years now. In fact, as desktop digital advertising slowly contracts (whether or not this is a trend is hard to say), mobile has continued to drive industry growth.

Today mobile digital advertising is the source of more than two-thirds of all digital advertising revenue.

In order to run a successful digital advertising campaign in 2019, it’s essential to understand the different aspects of mobile advertising. At least, if one wants to take advantage of this increasingly large and important sector of the digital advertising industry.

Quick Recap

Since the smartphone revolution began in the mid-2000s, mobile advertising has developed into the primary impetus of growth in the digital ad industry.

Mobile advertising comes in two primary forms: mobile web and in-app. The former is essentially a miniaturized desktop ecosystem. The different ad forms are largely similar (banner, search/text, popup, etc.). The latter, however, is quite different.

In-app ads are advertisements that are displayed from within a mobile application, rather than in a browser. These ads provide substantial advantages compared to mobile browser ads.

They are less-intrusive, better integrated, and harder to block. So if you’re going to be launching a mobile campaign, in-app advertising should be a the top of your wishlist.

Mobinner is an advanced high-performance Demand-Side Platform. Since 2017, we’ve been helping advertisers drive growth, build brands, and create high-value conversions. See what Mobinner can do for you here.

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