Since its introduction last year, Apple's iAd advertising network has been off to a somehow rough start: touted as the best way for advertisers to build interactive campaigns to deliver effortlessly to iOS users, the service was repeatedly criticized by advertisers and ad agencies due to Apple's strict design requirements and control, expensive minimum buy and low fill rates compared to Google's AdMob network. In the past months, Apple tried to address several issues reported by iAd's initial partners: they released a desktop tool to design iAds visually on a Mac, they cut the minimum buy in half from $1 million to $500,000, and rolled out fullscreen ads with even more interactivity on the iPad. They updated the official iAd website to display more information and details, and released an iPhone app entirely focused on showcasing experiences built for the iAd network.
A change in the way Apple chooses the apps that can display iAds, however, might cause a little bit of confusion among developers that, until now, have relied on iAds as the sole source of income for their free apps. Mike Zornek, developer of the free Dex app for iPhone and iPod touch (a Pokèmon browser application), relays an email from the iAd Network Support team in which an Apple employee explains how iAds may not be displayed anymore in apps targeted to "young children" because of the advertisers' preference to not show ads to this particular audience.
Last Thursday I had a particularly awful iAd fill rate of 5%. This isn’t new, I’ve had problems before. Then on Friday a 0% fill rate, then on Saturday another 0% fill rate. I emailed Apple and posted a question to the company’s developer forums. Today I finally got a reply:
We periodically review the apps in the iAd Network to ensure that all apps receiving ads are aligned with the needs of our advertisers. Currently, our advertisers prefer that their advertising not appear in applications that are targeted for users that are young children, since their products are not targeted at that audience.
We appreciate your understanding.
iAd Network Support Apple, Inc. 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino, CA 95014
Zornek's app, Dex, is clearly targeted to kids playing Pokèmon on their Nintendo handhelds who also have an iPod touch or iPhone, the developer explains on his blog. Whilst he acknowledges Apple has all the rights to adjust and refine the iAd platform to its needs, he also says direct communication of the change prior to noticing low fill rates would have been nice.
On the other hand, the change could be relevant to developers of apps and, more importantly, games that are targeted to kids, and come as free downloads with integrated advertisements. In the past weeks, we'be heard about low fill rates from other developers, who also stated they were going to change to AdMob for the time being. However, considering iAd's nature (a "premium" not all companies are willing to pay) and currently served content, perhaps it's a smart move to hide a Nissan Leaf or Excite body spray from your kids' view. More developers will likely weigh in throughout the week, so meet us in the comments if you've received a similar email from the iAd team or noticed your iAd fill rates dramatically slowed down.