Blog Your guide to mobile ad formats: Pick th...

Your guide to mobile ad formats: Pick the right ones for your next campaign


Mobile web ads come in many forms. From videos to mobile banner ads to interstitial ads, finding the right mobile web ad format for your audience is crucial to maximizing your user acquisition campaigns, and to effectively monetizing your apps.

Matching ad formats to the right audience creates a win-win scenario: budgets are well spent on content that users find relevant and engaging. A massive 78% of consumers will happily accept mobile advertising relevant to their interests. To ensure you’re providing the best possible mobile ads to the most receptive audience, we will explore the most popular formats available and best practices to match your audience with campaign goals.

Part 1

Types of mobile ad formats explained

In the digital realm, there are typically four types of ads:

  • Banner ads
  • Video ads
  • Rich media ads
  • Native ads

When developing your marketing strategy for mobile, identifying the suitable ad formats for your particular needs will deliver the best results. Publishers and advertisers alike can benefit from learning each type of ad format and its unique benefits.

Part 2

What are banner ads?

This traditional mobile format is borrowed from desktop marketing and is typically utilized to build brand awareness. An in-app banner ad is an embedded image at the top or the bottom of the screen and is designed for users to tap on the ad.

Despite its simplicity, a Liftoff report shows that banner ads are still an effective format that ‘outperforms native ads by a landslide when it comes to post-install engagement on Android.’ However, this format may be subject to banner blindness, which occurs when users become so accustomed to viewing banner ads that they no longer notice them. However, that isn’t always the case. In fact, InMobi found that on Android, banner ads delivered the best conversions for lifestyle content (2.02%); on iOS, banner ads worked best for classified content.

Banner ads continue to grow more robust, moving from static-only images to GIFs and videos.  As BannerFlow puts it, “In-banner video is a video clip that exists within a display ad. It uses the space provided for an HTML5 ad to deliver a video that is either part of the HTML5 animation of a display ad or provides the viewer with the choice to view a full video. It can be a cost-effective way of delivering video content and reusing creative elements.”

Part 3

What are native ads?

A native ad format is designed to adapt to the environment within which it is displayed. By implementing an ad that matches an app’s aesthetic, the ad is less intrusive to the user experience. In fact, 87% of consumers prefer native ads to banner ads. This makes native ads a popular choice among marketers, with the format predicted to grow to $400 billion by 2025.

While native ads come with a bigger price tag and can be a challenge to scale quickly, these customized experiences can pay dividends and drive downloads.

Part 4

What are interstitial ads?

Typically ten times the size of banner ads, interstitial ads are full-screen videos or images. Interstitial ads are usually displayed during a transitional moment in the user experience—such as between activities or a pause between levels on a gaming app. This ad format has a higher CTR than traditional banner ads due to their size and the simple options presented to the user: Click on the ad or exit to continue using the app.

However, one study found that ad viewers spent 22% of their time looking for the “X” button to close the ad, so it’s critical to ensure that interstitial ads show content that’s relevant to the user. Anything else, and you risk annoying your audience rather than engaging it. For best results, it’s vital to offer a clear call to action and ensure that the full-screen ad is presented at opportune moments within the app – not during key moments of their user experience.

Part 5

What are video ads and rewarded video ads?

Video ads and rewarded video ads are popular among marketers because they are highly engaging and offer high CTRs. A video ad is a typical banner or pop-up that can appear at any point during an app session. However, a rewarded video gives users a clear incentive for viewing the ad, such as in-app gifts of privileges. For example, users in a gaming app can earn extra lives by watching a rewarded video ad.

Mobile video ads come in a variety of formats, especially on an app like Instagram. Instagram ad formats include at least four different types of video formats, including stories, reels, and in-stream videos. With so many options available, advertisers just venturing into video ads may find YouTube’s TrueView helpful as a gateway into video advertising.

Rewarded video has taken the industry by storm. A study by OpenX shows that 77% of users would watch a 30-second ad in exchange for a discount from a retailer. Players that watch rewarded video ads are also six times more likely to complete in-app purchases, while 76% of mobile gamers in the U.S. prefer opt-in rewarded video ads over interstitial ads.

Part 6

What are playable ads?

In a study by Emarketer, 28% of U.S. agency professionals found playable ads to be the most effective in-app ad format. This ad format gives users the chance to access interactive experiences through gameplay before installing your app. It’s a “try before you buy” offer. Once the user’s limited time is up, they’ll receive a call to action to install the full game.

Because users can gauge their interest before installing, playable ads can be used to reduce app uninstall rates. In 2020, the use of playable ads saw a 113% increase in use, while impressions for the format increased by an average of 53% per month.

Part 7

What are rich media ads?

Also known as multimedia banners, rich media ads contain several interactive contents such as video, audio, text, or animation to encourage user interaction. As a result, rich media ads offer users a more engaging experience while boosting brand awareness.

For example, the A&E cable network used rich media to promote the third season of Bates Motel to great effect. The network used over 100 cameras to make their ad appear as though the show's characters were jumping out of the banner in the middle of the user’s screen. As a result, A&E recorded a 49% jump in new viewers for the show.

Part 8

More ad formats to know

Many apps are capable of displaying several or all of these ad formats — and some apps can combine, remix, or even create their own ad formats. That’s especially true of social media apps. Let’s explore some of the other ad formats and terms that are worth knowing:

  • Carousel ads allow advertisers to showcase up to 10 images or videos within one ad, each with its own link. Users can swipe through the different images on their mobiles. Carousel ads are a popular ad format on Instagram and Facebook. Carousels are also an available LinkedIn ad format, along with several other ad types.
  • Google Discovery ads appear in Google’s feeds on the Gmail app, the Google app, and the YouTube app. These ads utilize machine learning and are displayed when users are most likely to engage with a brand.  Advertisers provide the building blocks — headlines, images, bids, budgets, etc. — and Google reshapes these components to display the ads across a wide breadth of inventory and formats. These ads are ideal for app marketers to scale conversions, reach new customers or retarget previous clients.
  • Bumper ads are a familiar YouTube ad format, where short video ads — six seconds at most — are shown to viewers. This format is especially popular on mobile because it is minimally disruptive to the viewing experience.

Part 9

Mobile advertising strategies: Seven best practices

1. Adapt creative to specific platforms

Whether you’re creating a video for Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, your approach should match how users interact with that platform.

Each social network has different user behavior and video etiquette, so research each platform and adapt your creative accordingly. For example, more than 65% of Snapchat users view video with audio, while only 15% of users have audio on while using Facebook and Instagram. So, while audio shouldn’t be neglected, it’s crucial that your ad still works effectively without sound.

2. Understand where your users are coming from

Learning where users come from is one of the most important components of a marketer’s user acquisition strategy. Without this, you’re running campaigns without insight into what works and what doesn’t, preventing your overall strategy from improving. For best results, you want each campaign to lead you to progress with better-informed decisions. This means that even if a particular campaign isn’t successful, you’ll still have insight needed to optimize for better performance. This is why mobile advertisers need to work with a mobile marketing platform.

MMPs provide the insights needed to map out a user’s entire journey, from how they arrived at your app to which in-app events they completed. Moreover, your analytics can reveal behavioral patterns that can be used to optimize your overall strategy.

3. A/B test your ads before scaling up

For best results, it’s important to test the creative elements used for your ads. This is true across all ad formats, as A/B testing gives you valuable insight into which variant will convert the most users.

Depending on the ad format you’re implementing, the focus of your tests will differ. For example, you may be testing different designs and creative for your interstitial ads or entirely different levels for your playable ad. Testing this with sample groups will give you the insight you need to scale up your campaigns with confidence.

4. Make use of social media integration

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of online adults use social networking sites, meaning that social media should play a part in your mobile advertising strategy. Connecting your campaigns to the social presence you already have will help with brand awareness. For example, if your rich media ads have a shareable element, it’s wise to include an option where users can share this on social media. Pairing your ad with social media is also a cost-effective way of boosting your ad’s reach.

5. Ensure you have adequate fraud prevention

Mobile ad fraud affects all apps, with losses in 2021 reaching a shocking $65 billion worldwide. Protecting your ad spend from fraudsters is a critical step to ensuring you acquire real users and that your data is kept clean.

To learn more about mobile ad fraud, read our guide to mobile fraud.

6. Focus on high-value users, not just CTRs

Click-through rates (CTRs) are a great way to learn if your ads are engaging your target audience, but they don’t tell the whole story. By tracking in-app events and learning which channels bring you valuable users further down the line, you can bring in more high-value users by replicating your most successful campaigns.

For example, let’s say you want to compare two campaigns for your mobile game. Campaign A brought you 1,000 new users while Campaign B brought you 500. However, only 10 users from Campaign A made an in-app purchase, while 20 users from Campaign B completed a purchase event. In this scenario, the campaign with the lower CTR is better for ROAS, so it makes sense to scale up here to increase ROI.

7. Don’t forget to retarget

Android users have 2.47 million apps available to them on Google Play, while Apple's App Store has 1.8 million available for iOS. Competition is fierce across all verticals, so it’s critical to retarget valuable users who have installed your app and lapsed. Retargeting is a powerful way to optimize ROAS and LTV because these users have your app installed and have shown signals of intent.

Retargeting efforts include ads on mobile web and in-app, push notifications, and SMS. You can also track events and implement dynamic product ads (DPAs) to bring users back to your app: for more insights, take a look at our e-book on how to optimize your DPAs.

Part 10

Summary: Go for it with an MMP

Choosing the right ad format requires you to make some tough decisions about the audience you want to engage, the channels you wish to use, and the networks you’d like to try. Make sure you enlist the help of a mobile measurement partner like Adjust to get key insights into what each ad type has to offer and the uplift it can deliver. This way, you can optimize campaigns to reach and engage the best users for your app.

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