THE BLOG

Advertising Doesn't Have to Be Evil

19/09/2013 13:46 BST | Updated 19/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Why is advertising a dirty word in mobile? Ask a handful of people to describe mobile advertising (or indeed any advertising) to you and they are likely to describe a world of annoying, irrelevant spam that adds little or no value to their lives. But does mobile advertising have to be something negative? Surely today's app developers have the technology and the smarts to make mobile adverts a relevant part of the experience?

As an app developer it is hard to make money. The simplest and most common models are to sell an application, or place ads within an app and hope to generate revenue that way. And whilst years of spam on the web and email have built a culture of cynicism and even resentment towards ads, research on mobile apps suggest that people would rather tolerate advertising rather than pay for apps. 90% of all apps on the App Store are now free and, as we have to assume that these developers want to make some money for their hard work, I'll bet that many of the users of those apps are seeing some form of advertising.

Lots of app users we speak to say that they are learning to ignore ads. As the number of ads grows so does our subconscious ability to filter out those little boxes at the bottom of our mobile phones. But shouldn't advertising be adding value to the experience? Isn't that the case with traditional magazines?

When I buy a glossy magazine in a newsagent, the ads in that magazine are part of the experience. They tell me about the latest cool stuff related to the topic of the magazine. There is an article on a cool thing. And an ad telling me where to get that cool thing. Magazine ads also tend to look beautiful, drawing the reader in rather than distracting them from the overall experience.

We see no reason why mobile ads can't follow this trend; as modern designers and developers, we should be able to deliver ads that have the beauty of a magazine ad, but are also highly relevant to the user at that point in time. One of the things the team at Inq have been working on is a "relevancy engine" that is able to serve up a user relevant content, based on their social graph. By analyzing a number of different elements within a person's social graph the relevancy engine can predict the kind of stuff that they like and find interesting. We use this knowledge to serve people their own personal filtered view of the web via our app Material. Sure, it's the same content that they could find by other means - but we promote the content that is relevant to a user and filter out the bad stuff. And once you've got the technology behind the relevancy engine honed, it's a small step to go from applying this logic to advertising. Imagine if all app developers started using this kind of technology to predict the ads that might be relevant to their users' interests and the app content they are currently consuming. Such an ad could actually enhance their in-app experience. This is the future we need to work towards.

We know that people are already tolerating mobile ads. But only when mobile ads are genuinely adding value to their lives, will they welcome ads in without resentment. Mobile ads really don't have to be an evil. Mobile developers just need to leverage the technology we have to make them good.