Publishers resort to desktop ads for mobile

Advertiser demand for mobile-specific ad units remains weak, so, ironically, publishers are increasingly relying on “desktop” formats to monetize their mobile audiences instead.


Many publishers are turning to desktop units over mobile-specific ads. These ads are a relatively simple way to incorporate advertising into responsive sites, and offer the bonus of being far larger than tiny mobile banners, often taking up the full rather than just framing the bottom of the phone screen.

Mashable’s site is littered with 300-pixel-wide display ads. Those units are rendered the same on mobile devices as they are on desktop and tablet screens. It’s the easiest solution for cross-device advertising, and potentially more lucrative then swapping in “mobile” ads. Business Insider is taking a similar approach. Its mobile site still includes some 300×50 mobile banners, but it mostly relies on 300x250s now. That means more screen real estate for ads. Typically, a reader of a Business Insider story on a phone will see a mobile banner on article pages followed by a standard 300×250 display ad at the bottom of articles. On its mobile homepage, BI shows a 300×250 display ad within the stream of headlines.

Business Insider

“Because they work well on all platforms, the 300×250 ad unit makes sense for Business Insider,” said the company’s ad strategy chief, Emily Evans-Allen. She added that the publication is experimenting more with HTML5-based creative for the same reason.

Ad Age’s new responsive site design also relies on 300×600 and 300×250 units to monetize both desktop and mobile traffic. When viewed on a phone, ads that would usually appear in an article page’s sidebar are simply repositioned within the content instead, Ad Age publisher Allison Arden told Digiday. At the moment, the site is configured so that ads appear after the second paragraph of a story when viewed on mobile devices, she said.


But incorporating display ads into mobile content isn’t always easy. On some publisher sites ads that appear in the sidebar on desktop are often relegated to the bottom of the page on mobile, for example. Some publishers report having to ask editors to drop ad tags in their copy to ensure impressions are served in sensible places higher up the page.

There’s a risk that large ad formats designed for desktop devices could alienate mobile users, too. Viewing the Mashable homepage yesterday from an iPhone, I was served a 300×600 ad after every two pieces of content in the stream, on average. That’s a lot of real estate for advertisers.

Meanwhile, Ad Age’s rule of inserting a display ad after the second paragraph can often leave users scrolling through a large display ad to find the rest of an article having only read a few sentences of it. That’s why Business Insider has avoided inserting ads in article content to date.

“We feel that would not be optimal for the user experience,” Evans-Allen said, adding that it plans to experiment with ads within articles if they’re of a certain length, however.

“Our approach would be to automate the placement rather than require editors to insert the ad. Editors would have the option of suppressing it on a case-by-case basis. That’s the basic philosophy of our CMS: automate as much as possible while building in editorial overrides,” she explained.

But no matter how the ads wind up on publishers’ pages, it’s interesting that formats are being selected primarily for their cross-platform ease. The mobile banner might be doomed, but it seems display ads served to mobile devices are here to stay, for the time being at least.

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