Last week I encountered this ad experience on my iPhone.

Even for a mobile ad, this was bad.

money.cnn bad ad

I arrived from Twitter via the CNN RSS feed.

Before I could see the article I wanted, I had to endure an overlay (or lightbox) showcasing the terrible side of content discovery networks.

Even if I'm not interested in car insurance or military flashlights, the text at the top right informs me I must consider them for 10 seconds before I can see my article.

Furthermore, this paid content is described as 'paid parnter (sic) content' in the top left.

So what's so bad about this?

First, the obvious, I've clicked to read an article, why on Earth would I click away to another article before my original one has even appeared?

Then there's the method of interruptive delivery. Overlays often appear on a range of websites and are seen particularly in ecommerce to capture email addresses.

However, on mobile, where network speeds vary so dramatically, disrupting the user's experience like this is misguided. Users have less patience on mobile and are looking for relevant content.

Anything that suggests I'll be tortured during a mobile experience often leads me to abandon the article (and did in this case).

Furthermore, this is not in keeping with the CNN brand at all.

Yes, CNN articles on desktop and mobile include some annoying and arguably necessary ad experiences (clickbait content discovery at the bottom of articles, autosound video ads on the right hand side), but its UX is very good.

As you can see from the article below, text is chunky, navigation is conventional.

CNN creates content I actually want to read in a format I enjoy. So why compromise that so thoroughly?

money cnn mobile

What can we take away from this?

Well, it seems this ad experience is getting noticed (see this Reddit thread).

On mobile, content discovery networks surely face an impending crisis. Can quality publications continue to compromise their mobile content with interruptive sponsored headlines when, for all the increase in clickthrough and ad revenue, these publishers won't truly know who they are alienating?

Dark patterns in UX still abound - taking the user somewhere that feels like the antithesis of what they expected to discover.

The sooner those in marketing and advertising view the problem of profitability in the round, the better the solution for all.

Mobile network Three is certainly on to something in identifying the problem of mobile ads, with its ad blocking trial testing the following features:

  • No data charges for downloading adverts.
  • Privacy and security fully protected.
  • Advertising must be relevant and interesting (not intrusive and unwanted).

Let me know what you think about these kind of mobile ad experiences in the comments below.

For further reading on the background of ad blocking, see the following posts:

Ben Davis

Published 31 May, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

Troy Norcross

Troy Norcross, Digital Strategy and Innovation / Principal at SER Associates

In another article on 12 May it was announced that CNN will monetise attention over news. This is a classic example. They have captured your attention and now they will monetise.

This is a slippery slope. CNN will slowly degrade the quality of their news seeking ever greater attention and might even wind up at Gawker level news.

it's a sad sad day for the CNN Brand.

about 2 years ago

Anthony Leaton

Anthony Leaton, Freelance at Emarketing Manager

I had the same 'bad experience'. Then I discovered Google Newstand and was motivated to find better sources. As newsapps such as newstand take seconds to find new information sources, CNN was changed from preferred to yesterday's news in under 30 seconds.

That's all it takes with publishing nowadays. People are flippant with sources and will read around. Time CNN get off their high horse and discover that opinion writers and personalities are muscling in on big brands.

about 2 years ago

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