May 25, 2021

How do mobile ads work?

Written by valeria


In the online world of "free" ---whether that be a free app or a free subscription--- there is usually only one way that service is being offered, and that is with ads. There isn't much that has changed in the advertising world since the golden days of network television. I'm lying, of course, a lot has changed. And if you want to learn more about how you're getting the ads that you do on your mobile apps, or really, anywhere you're online, then read on below.


How do we fit this into a phone?

Why am I seeing ads?

Before we dive into how ads work, perhaps I should first explain why they're there at all. In order for any company or business to survive, it must generate some form of revenue. And while paying for an actual product or subscription is a valid way of doing so, in a space where you have hundreds, if not thousands of app options, paying for each one can get pricey, from a consumer perspective. Which also means that it will be a much more competitive space, and harder for all those app developers to get business. So in the modern world of smartphones, app developers have taken after their TV and print predecessors, and sell ad space to make revenue instead. Doing so not only allows them to continue providing their service and grow as a business, but it also gives them the opportunity to provide more services to customers for free---such as our nationwide talk & text service, wink-wink.

Why am I seeing the ads that I'm seeing?

OK, so ads in free spaces are there to keep the service free (for you), that seems logical enough. But why are you seeing very specific ads? Like, "I just looked up how to plant tomatoes the other day and now I'm seeing ads for garden soil" specific. Well, the simple answer to that is: cookies. Cookies are small files saved by your web browser and stored on your device. Most websites use cookies so that your device and IP address are remembered when you visit a site again. Mostly, that information is used to remember items in a cart you may have started, or even your login information so that you don't have to enter it every time. But advertising cookies specifically are used to gather insights on your activity in order serve you better, and more targeted ads.

So anything that you search online, click through, or show any sort of intent, will be saved on these cookies, which advertising companies then use to set up their campaigns with specific targeting. They know that advertising cat food to someone who has looked up how to feed a Siberian husky won't have much success, so they use this information to avoid advertising to irrelevant target audiences.

It’s not just cookies, though — companies can also track you based on your individual, unique device. According to AVG, device fingerprinting uses a device’s particular attributes — its operating system, the web browser being used, the device’s IP address, and so on — to identify it among the sea of other devices out there. This information can then be used to track your activity and target you with specific, even personalized campaigns.

So to sum it up---if you're looking up something online, even if you're just reading about it in passing, don't be alarmed if you start seeing ads for products related to that search or content. And remember that they're there to help keep the service free, so you can keep using it.

What if I see an ad I don't like/is completely inappropriate?

It happens. Some advertisers are more sneaky than others, and may sell content that is not always appropriate for the app's age restrictions, or just for in general. Best thing to do in situations like that is take a screenshot of the ad and contact customer support about it. With your help, they may be able to find the specific ad and remove it from their platform.

Got more questions about ads? Let us know in the comments below!