Have you ever noticed an ad on your smartphone or tablet and wondered how it got there? Or opened a game or a video and asked yourself how the app or mobile browser determines which products it should advertise to you? For every ad that appears in your mobile browser or in a mobile app you’ve installed on your device, an ad network and an advertiser have carefully considered where they’d like to promote a product and to what kind of customer they’d like to advertise it, and concluded that you were a match based on information about your mobile device and your activity on it.
Typically, the path an ad takes to your Android phone or your iPad starts with an ad network, a company that matches ad space from publishers with demand from advertisers. Facebook, for example, has a mobile ad network, called the Audience Network, which enables companies to place ads not only on Facebook, but in a network of other apps, as well. Other examples of ad networks that place the ads you see on a daily basis are Twitter’s MoPub and Google’s AdMob.
But showing ads to mobile users is a much more sophisticated business than just choosing an app where’d you like to display your ad. Instead, ad networks and their advertisers use a variety of ad targeting methods to figure out which users to show an ad to. They do that by detecting and taking into account a variety of different pieces of information about you and what you’re doing on your smartphone or tablet.