iAd advertisers scale back on apps for kids

Some makers of apps aimed at kids and that make use of Apple's iAd advertising system are finding their apps are no longer displaying ads, a signal that advertisers are placing their bets on other demographics.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Dex, an app affected by advertisers on Apple's iAd platform.
Dex, an app affected by advertisers on Apple's iAd platform. ClickableBliss

Advertisers participating in Apple's iAd platform appear to be going for a slightly older demographic, a move that's affected revenues for several developers with ad-supported games aimed at kids.

As picked up by MacStories, developer Michael Zornek, who makes Dex--a Pokemon-themed application--recently noticed a sharp drop-off in fill rate, or the percentage of ad requests that actually produce ads when they're called for by an application. Over the weekend, for instance, Zornek saw that rate drop down to zero. Curious about the drop, Zornek e-mailed Apple's iAd support and was told advertisers had withdrawn from apps aimed at young children.

"We periodically review the apps in the iAd Network to ensure that all apps receiving ads are aligned with the needs of our advertisers," a reply from Apple's iAd support said. "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."

Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr confirmed to CNET that it was the company's policy to keep iAds off apps targeted at children. "We pulled iAds from this app," Neumayr said. "Our policy is that we don't serve iAd into apps for kids."

In a post about the matter on Zornek's blog, the developer says he's peeved that Apple did not alert him, and others with children's apps, to let them know about the changes. He's since removed iAds from the app entirely, and now uses Google-owned AdMob along with an in-app purchase option that buyers can use to get rid of advertising entirely. The change has also kept him from including iAds in one of his upcoming iOS apps.

"Today was another harsh reminder we iPhone developers are making a living at the beck and whim of a powerful platform vendor," Zornek wrote. "Be careful putting all your eggs in his basket."

Other developers are in the same boat. Bram Stolk, who has a number of iOS applications, including ones aimed at kids, found that his game Jump Daisy Jump sank down to a zero percent fill rate. Oddly enough, this was after e-mailing Apple's iAd support about the fact that his "regular" game title The Little Crane That Could was down at a zero percent fill rate, while Jump Daisy Jump continued to hover around 15 percent.

"For five days or so, they had it the wrong way around: Daisy still got the ads, Little Crane did not," Stolk wrote in an e-mail to CNET. "I did reply to Apple's boiler plate e-mail yesterday, so I wonder if that triggered the fix. In any case, I had not heard back from them."

Stolk said he understood the pullback of advertising for kids, but found the implementation to be less sound.

"I wonder if Little Crane got designated 'for kids' purely on the title alone. Nothing I spec'd could have caused this designation, other than that it does not contain sex nor violence," Stolk said.

Apple launched its iAds platform last year to go head-on with Google and other companies in the mobile advertising space. CEO Steve Jobs positioned it as an ad platform that would be easier for developers to implement inside their applications and that users would find more compelling than what was currently available. The platform specifically offered ads that would send users outside of an application, giving developers a way to maintain the integrity of the app experience without making concessions on when and where ads could appear.

Since launch, the iAd platform has moved beyond the iPhone and onto the iPad, as well as expanded internationally. Apple has also created entire applications to demonstrate its capabilities, as well as some of the existing campaigns on the service.

Updated at 4:04 p.m. PT with comment from Apple.