Mobile Ad Formats Compared

Christopher Reynolds | October 29, 2013


ad formats compared1
The mobile ad industry may still be maturing, and finding its feet, but there’s already a plethora of ad formats available, each one promising to increase click through rates and drive revenues for developers.  From interactive ads to simple banners, the mobile landscape offers more familiarity than novelty to advertisers already used to the web. But for the hordes of game makers and app developers, most of whom wholly rely on ad revenue, the space can be confusing and finding objective opinion on what format will work best for you is difficult.  While each ad format has its benefits and drawbacks, they can often be specific to different app genres and need careful thought in terms of how they’re deployed. In this article we’ll take a quick look at the major ad formats currently available on mobile and – with the help of a few ad networks – aim to give you a general introduction on how they should best be used and who’ll they’ll benefit the most.

Mobile ad formats: Interviewees

Kindly helping us makes sense of the ad format space are the following individuals:
Francis Bea, AppFlood
Twitter: @francisybea
Ythan Pratt, NativeX
Twitter: @ythanpratt
Amy Isenberg, Leadbolt
 Twitter: @Leadbolt

Banner ads


  • Very quick to deploy
  • Easy to integrate


  • Low performance
  • Can feel ‘spammy’

Mobile Banner Click Through Rate averages 2013, according to:


Banner ad example from Leadbolt

Banner ad example from Leadbolt

The good old mobile ad banner. It’s versatility and simplicity makes campaigns very quick to put together and deploy. Banners are by far the dominant mobile ad format out there. But ubiquity doesn’t always equate to effectiveness. While banners can be good for advertisers’ brand awareness and visibility, they certainly don’t produce the best CTRs. According to data recently collected by AppFlood, the average banner ad CTR stood around 0.23% and – out of all other ad types – banner ads generated the least earnings.
NativeX‘s Ythan Pratt is particular negative on the format, saying banners “frustrate” users more than anything else and “most clicks are accidental.” Indeed, many take the view that banner ads are usually clumsy efforts to shoehorn web-based formats onto a mobile screen, without really catering to the smaller display size. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Leadbolt‘s Amy Isenberg says banners can still be effective during the “engagement phase” when users are “active within the app and fully attentive.”
Comparison of banner and panel ads from AppFlood.

Comparison of banner and panel ads from AppFlood.

Appflood‘s Francis Bea says effective banner design needs to strike a careful balance between being “subtly” eye-catching, but not distracting from the app experience. Banners should highlight game art or key app features, offering a concise call to action. But avoid bright colours, too much text or “graphics that look like the creative was drawn by five-year old.”

Rich Media Ads


  • Engaging
  • Versatile
  • High CTR


  • Can be highly intrusive
  • Relies on strong creative

Rich Media Click Through Rate averages, according to:

Rich media mobile ads cover all types of ads that offer a more engaging experience than a typical banner, or static interstitial. This engagement can take many forms. Most commonly in the deployment of animations, or short video clips, within the ad. But advertisers are coming-up with increasingly creative ways to catch users’ attention, such as dynamic information (including weather or location) integrated mini-games, the ability to respond to tilts or shakes, and other form of interactivity.
Snickers rich media ad from Celtra

Rich media ads have proven themselves to be highly effective over the last couple of years since they’ve been widely implemented on mobile devices and the positive data keeps rolling in. Most recently ad network Opera Mediaworks released a report that found rich media ads were four times more effective than standard banners (not hard really, but still a 1.53% CTR is nothing to be sniffed at). This is backed-up by non-ad network sources, such as a study from John Lewis and the IAB, which found those exposed to expandable banners were 25% more likely to recall an ad than those exposed to static banners.
Ythan Pratt says rich media ads are a “great opportunity” for brands to transition their budgets from the web to mobile and can also be used as a way to monetise freemium users.
“Freemium game developers love rich media,” says Pratt. “Ninety five percent of players will never make an in-app purchase, and rewarding users through rich media ads is great for player retention.”
Showcase of rich media ads from Medialets

However, because by their nature rich media ads are designed to catch the eye and engage, Pratt points out that they also have a high potential for intrusiveness. When putting together a rich media campaign is therefore imperative that the creative doesn’t go overboard. While mobile presents a new and novel way to engage users, there’s also a high risk to get carried away and obstruct users from their main goal – using the app. So either make sure any highly elaborate ads are opt in, allowing the user to choose to engage with it, or make sure it appears during a suitable interval, such as level break, or before the app launches.

Interstitial ads


  • Visually compelling
  • High impressions
  • High conversions


  • Can be highly intrusive
  • Requires more design work and thought regarding placement

Interstitial Click Through Rate averages 2013, according to:


Interstitial ad from Leadbolt

Interstitial ad from Leadbolt

Interstitials are perhaps the first ad format borrowed from the web that found a natural home on mobile, primarily by overcoming the platform’s biggest obstacle: screen real estate restrictions. When we talk about interstitials we essentially mean full-screen ads that appear at intervals within the app. The ability to grab a user’s undivided attention, especially on mobile, is incredibly appealing to advertisers. Because interstitials are not designed to be seen while an app is in use, you don’t have to worry so much about distracting the user or generating mistaken click throughs. Instead advertisers can create beautiful and engaging ads, with a lot more flexibility, high quality artwork and powerful copy. All this has the knock on effect of reducing the irritation factor for users (although interstitials can create their own problems in this area).
The stats are pretty encouraging on interstitials, especially for certain app types. For instance, InMobi found interstitial ads worked best with games, social and entertainment, delivering conversion rates of 3.04%, 2.71% and 2.26% respectively. This strong performance is reinforced by Appflood’s numbers, which show an impressive 5.7% CTR on interstitials within games.
Appflood’s Francis Bea says interstitial are best used within games with levels, due to the natural break in gameplay where they can appear.
Example of AppFlood's interstitial ads.

Example of AppFlood’s interstitial ads.

“Interstitial ads shouldn’t interrupt the user experience,” says Bea. “So publishers should avoid pushing an interstitial ad mid-game or at moments when users are most likely to be browsing an in-app page. Instead publishers can take advantage of those “breaks” within an app, whether that means pushing the interstitial when app opens up or right after the exit screen, in between levels in a game, or right after a “Game Over” screen.”
Ythan Pratt echoes Bea’s advice, but adds that interstitials will work best in combination with “positive rewards” for the player. “For example,” he says, “if you display the interstitial after a daily reward then players may think this is a part of that reward. Natural beaks, navigating to the main menu, and after a player has leveled up in an XP level based game are also good options.”

App lists (app walls)


  • Variety of apps in one ad
  • Therefore high CTR
  • Non-intrusive
  • Good for cross promotion


  • Lower impressions for publishers
  • More competition for advertisers

App List (Offer Wall) Click Through Rate averages, according to:


An example of Leadbolt's app wall ads

An example of Leadbolt’s app wall ads

App lists (or app walls) are usually a full screen, interstitial-style ad, that will offer the user a variety of different apps to install. The obvious benefit to this type of ad – over a regular interstitial – is that it presents the user with a range of options, increasing the likelihood they will find something appealing and engage. This is good for developers/publishers as it drives revenue (Appflood has seen CTRs on average of 7.14%), but maybe not so great for advertisers, as they will usually be competing for eyeballs and installs within the ad itself. Plus in terms of creative, app walls are usually restricted to app icons and text descriptions.
Another benefit to app lists is that its user interface is a familiar format for users, as they essentially recreate the feel and functionality of an app store. Bea says app walls also benefit from the ability to natively integrate into an app. While the ad format itself isn’t native, developers can – for instance – create a “Click Here for More Apps” button, which expands and delivers the app list to the user. This gives the user more control over the experience and reduces any irritation factor that may occur due to unwanted interstitials.
While app walls are traditionally associated with games, Ythan Pratt says the format still has flexibility, especially when it comes to the – slightly controversial – incentivised ad types (banned on iOS, but still available on Android). Such offer walls can give players more valuable rewards for taking certain actions, such as insurance quotes, credit card applications and surveys, and are a “good source of advertising” for brands.

Video ads


  • Users like them
  • Focuses attention
  • Good for brands


  • Expensive to produce
  • Can be intrusive when poorly placed

Video Ad Click Through Rate averages, according to:

  • Unruly Media (2013): 13.64%
  • MediaBrix (mobile gaming, 2012): 3%
  • MediaMind (interaction rates, 2012): 9.7%

Mobile video has been pegged as the next big thing in mobile advertising for a while now. But do in-app video ads really work and how should they be approached?
Well if you believe the ad networks, the answer to the former question is a resounding yes. In-app mobile video appears to be mirroring the explosive growth seen in mobile video consumption in general. Video ad network AdColony says users have watched more than a billion high definition mobile ads via its platform since 2011, with spend increasing by 122% between 2011 and 2013. AdColony’s videos are incentivised and typically display in mobile games, rewarding players who watch with virtual currency. Dedicated video ad players aren’t the only ones singing the format’s praises. Millennial Media – one of the biggest mobile ad networks around – recently launched a whole new spread of video units, recognising the importance of interactive and dynamic features, plus earlier this week Facebook announced its plans to introduce video ads into its own mobile app.
Mobile video ad from Millennial Media

The appeal of video, especially on mobile, is pretty obvious. Unlike desktops, tablets and phones don’t allow users to multi-task around a video ad, capturing their entire attention (as long as the user is still engaged with the device itself). But for developers this can quite easily backfire. A poorly made ad, or inconsiderate placement, can ultimately frustrate users and cause them to close and stop using your app altogether.
Firstly video ads should be kept short and the length needs to take into consideration the length of user engagement with the app. For instance, if a level in a game lasts just a minute and an add lasts 30 seconds, then users are not going to consider that a worthy trade-off (most ads should be in the 15 to 30 second range anyway). Secondly – as we’ve said with previous formats – ad placement needs to be at a natural break in the app’s usage, or – if there are no clear natural breaks – it should be optional to view.
Rhythm showcases its mobile video ads

Given their natural tendency to heavily disrupt the user experience, it also pays to think creatively in terms of how you introduce the video to the user. Video ad specialist JumpTap, which was acquired by Millennial back in August, gives a great example of this with a video ad displayed in Angry Birds. The ad initially takes the form of an animated banner, which is carried across the screen by the game’s titular characters, once the banner is clicked, it expands and reveals the video.
Finally, NativeX’s Ythan Pratt points out that optional incentivised videos – especially in games – are a great way to minimise the risk of frustrating the user, allowing players to opt-in, watch the ad, and get rewarded with in-game currency or other advancements.
Plenty to experiment with
As you can see there’s a great deal to consider when it comes to in-app ad formats. The mobile ad industry is still looking for fresh ideas to get ad spend flowing and increase revenues for developers, so there’s no doubt that we’ll see new and exciting ads deployed soon. Indeed, networks such as Leadbolt and Millennium are consistently releasing experimental formats such as floating ads, audio ads and much more. The most important thing is to experiment, iterate and gather as much data as you can in terms of what ads are the most effective with your app’s userbase.

Looking for more guidance on mobile ads? You can search our mobile advertising directory by format and find profiles of Leadbolt, NativeX and Appflood as well as other mobile ad networks

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