Reality-Checking The IAds
"You lost your Nano? How old are you?"
That's usually the snarky question I ask my daughter, but she is already practicing her "my doddering Dad" routine. My legendary problems hanging onto the very gadgetry I cover is an endless font of storytelling for her. You see, just as I tell tales of my daughter and tech, she has her own portfolio of "You can't believe what he did now" routines she conveys to friends and eager audiences -- like her mother. For her, the unstated subtext of her disbelief is that I burn through so many gadgets by breaking, losing or washing (yes, the first iPhone got laundered) and still won't get her an iPhone. My selfishness is legion. Worse, my fiancée also took one look at the Nano when I first brought it into the house and said, "You're just going to lose that, you know." I live to fulfill the low expectations my family has of me.
"And you bought another one?" my daughter gasped. Again, the real astonishment here is that I didn't buy her something instead. After all, if Dad is a bonehead, then getting something for his daughter should be the penance, if for no other reason than to compensate for the embarrassment. I think I have the teen logic right there, but I am still working my way through it.
Yeah, at this point the guys at the local Apple store have said "Ouch" to me on several occasions when I tell my sad story about what happened to the device I am replacing. I lost my new touch-screen Nano within a week, and yet the Apple guru commiserated as if he already had heard the same story. There is a dark side to Jobs' genius -- create gadgets that are irresistible but easily lost. Why bother building in planned obsolescence when you sell to dopes like me.
And oddly enough, while I am wedded to the iPhone and iPod line, I am not at all an Apple fan boy. I actually don't much like working on the Mac OS. I still think that iTunes itself is a mediocre way to organize your music. And the new Apple TV is too narrowly focused on TV and movie content.
And while I am ranting, I still am not convinced that the iAds are that compelling a model for mobile advertising. I understand from anecdotes and press reports that some of the brand advertisers are very pleased with the performance they are seeing from the iAds. But what else are you going to say after ponying up a few million and handing creative control over your message to a third party? As a consumer, I know I am tapping on iAds now just to see what is there, not because the call to action is especially strong. Novelty is not a foundation for sustained performance. After all, the front end of this experience is still just an animated banner ad.
Since I am the doddering old fool who can't keep his hands on a $150 Nano, perhaps my daughter is right. I am losing it. But I keep throwing myself at these iAds and coming away underwhelmed not only by the creative but by the experience itself.
Let me ask all of you: Isn't the performance of these things often slow and jagged? The initial downloads can be bothersome even if you are on WiFi and sitting on top of the router. Is the promise of an iAd supposed to be so great to consumers that they should wait for it like a game loading its code? Starting from the time I first spun the whirling interface on that Nissan Leaf iAd, I still find the interactivity less than smooth. The Citi and AT&T ad units seem well optimized and smooth but the Nissan and new Geico units use the same spinning interface that feels as jerky as the old G1 running Android 1.0.
To be sure, once you do get through to the iAds themselves the client has the opportunity to engage the user... if you really have the time to play with an app-within-an-app, when what you really came for was a dictionary look-up or tip calculation. There is a logic at work in the iAd I don't quite see. The basic banner-to-app-within-an-app model is supposed to avoid the supposed annoyance of in-your-face interstitials. But the model presumes that you do want to be interrupted on the back end for a deep dive into the brand's experience. I still smell something of a brand marketing fantasy at work here -- a dream that the consumer just can't wait to spend time with your brand. Even in its structure, this still feels like a brand vanity play rather than an ad model that maps to the device's utility.
Which is not to say that the iAds don't have the opportunity to engage us. The new Geico Wheel of Wisdom earns the attention it gets from sheer creative energy. The Geico voice and attitude is well used to give people silly advice on love, finance, friends, etc. The branding extends to ringtones of the TV ad tracks ("I don't have a phone, cuz I'm a pothole...so"), although oddly that feature is pushed to you through an email and then Web download of the m4r file. It all works not because of the ad unit so much as the success of the Geico gecko. That is not a bad thing, of course, but it is not easily replicated by other brands.
In the end, I am still struggling to see the revolution in all of this. I still find more effective and memorable some of the deeper app integrations I have seen, where the advertiser actually adds to the utility of the app. Bing had a sponsorship of Parenting magazine's Ages and Stages app that used the search engine as a tool for finding information. And for all of their interruptive qualities, I know Matt Damon's "Hereafter" is opening this week because those load screen ads have been popping up in my news apps -- and the creative is attractive enough to make me not care. The VISA iPad ad I wrote about several weeks back (and which VISA will speak about at the OMMA Mobile show next week) is more engaging and informative than any iAd I have seen, largely because it has entertaining utility that also conveys a brand message effectively.
Or maybe it's just me, since my faculties have come into question.
"Honey, did you mean to leave your iPad sitting on the roof of the Mini? You know if you have to replace one of those, there will be a helluva dinner out in it for me."
I have my own reality distortion field to deal with. I can't handle Steve Jobs', too.