Mobile App Advertising Plays Dirty

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With an ever increasing choice of apps in the iTunes App Store and Google Play, it’s more difficult for new apps to destroy through the noise and locate users. Apparently what this means is resorting to dirty tactics for many mobile app advertisers.

Tonight I was catching up on tweets through the day and clicked via 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 for the iTunes App Store, in principle hoping I would download a game.

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

I retraced my steps and went back for the Twitter app. There was the Salon.com article. I read the content 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 on the iTunes App Store.

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


Short Term Thinking


While I’m using Salon.com as an example here, I’m certain they aren’t the one ones with ads behaving using this method. This has the aroma of the latest new strategy in a desperate attempt to gain new users.

This whole business of redirecting website visitors to an app download within the iTunes App Store is short-run thinking. It’s detrimental to the website, for the reason that visitor never has got the chance to perform thing they arrived to do. It’s bad for the advertiser, as the ads look like untargeted - much like the carpet bombing approach of popups had been a decade ago.

The approach is even detrimental to the advertising service, because eventually advertisers will become fasionable that this isn’t working. Maybe it drives downloads inside the short term, however it seems unlikely that a spray-and-pray type campaign similar to this results in high average revenue per user (ARPU) or more importantly per ACTIVE user. Even if I did download one in the apps shoved into my face, how likely am I to hold using it. Inactive users are worthless.


How Do We Stop This?


As users, I think healthy hope is complaining for the websites running the ads. It might not hurt to complain for the iTunes App Store. I can’t find any language that proves this violates their tos, but I’m fairly certain it walks a thin line of deceptive marketing practices. Most importantly, don’t download the apps - if the advertisers are purchasing something that doesn’t work, they'll stop.

If you're employed in advertising, go ahead and take high road with this one. It might look tempting to try out a quick redirect to an app store, but in the long run, you're going to get burned. Users will certainly hate this method. There’s a fairly strong history of the web finding ways to crack documented on abusive advertising behavior - apps won’t be any different.

Jake Ludington (67 Posts)

Jake Ludington can be 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.


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