Mobile App Advertising Plays Dirty

With an ever increasing selection of apps in the iTunes App Store and Google Play, it’s harder for new apps to break through the noise and find users. Apparently this means resorting to dirty tactics for some mobile app advertisers.

Tonight I was catching up on tweets from the day and clicked through a link shared by fellow Delighted Robot blogger, Ryan Pierson. The article was on Salon.com. Seconds after clicking the link from the official Twitter app, I was redirected from the in-app browser to the iTunes App Store, in theory hoping I would download a game.

At first I was confused. Where did the article go? Did I accidentally click on an ad? I didn’t think so – I hadn’t even touched the iPhone screen yet.

I retraced my steps and went back to the Twitter app. There was the Salon.com article. I read the article and went back to my Twitter stream. Curious, I clicked the bit.ly link in Ryan’s tweet again. Same result. Within seconds of the page loading, I found myself being redirected to the iTunes App Store.

Just to be sure it wasn’t something I did, I went to the Safari browser on my phone and typed in Salon.com. Moments after arriving at their front page, I was redirected from Salon to the iTunes App Store yet again. You can see this in action in the video below.

Short Term Thinking

While I’m using Salon.com as an example here, I’m certain they aren’t the only ones with ads behaving this way. This smells like the latest new strategy in a desperate attempt to gain new users.

This whole business of redirecting website visitors to an app download in the iTunes App Store is short term thinking. It’s bad for the website, because the visitor never gets the chance to do the thing they arrived to do. It’s bad for the advertiser, because the ads appear to be untargeted – much like the carpet bombing approach of popups used to be a decade ago.

The approach is even bad for the advertising service, because at some point advertisers will catch on that this isn’t working. Maybe it drives downloads in the short term, but it seems unlikely that a spray-and-pray type campaign like this results in high average revenue per user (ARPU) or more importantly per ACTIVE user. Even if I did download one of the apps shoved into my face, how likely am I to keep using it. Inactive users are worthless.

How Do We Stop This?

As users, I think our best hope is complaining to the websites running the ads. It might not hurt to complain to the iTunes App Store. I can’t find any language that proves this violates their terms of service, but I’m pretty sure it walks a thin line of deceptive marketing practices. Most importantly, don’t download the apps – if the advertisers are spending money on something that doesn’t work, they will stop.

If you work in advertising, take the high road on this one. It might look tempting to experiment with a quick redirect to an app store, but in the long run, you will get burned. Users are going to hate this approach. There’s a pretty strong history of the web finding ways to crack down on abusive advertising behavior – apps won’t be any different.

About the Author

Jake Ludington
Jake Ludington is a video content strategist and marketing operations professional with a passion for big data and cloud computing. You can find him blogging about everything from enterprise computing to his favorite apps to operationalizing your online video publishing.

1 Comment on "Mobile App Advertising Plays Dirty"

  1. Not as annoying as redirect ads yet still up there in terms of irritation are ads that take up significant space on a page asking you to like or recommend the page with only a tiny way to close it so that the likelihood is greater you’ll hit the ad than the close prompt—which is exactly what this site had as I was trying to scroll down past your video…

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