For an ad format that was supposed to revolutionize mobile advertising as thoroughly as the iPhone did itself, these damn iAds are a pain in the ass to find. Launched formally on July 1, the hotly anticipated multimedia in-app ad platform from Apple appears to be trickling into the iPhone environment at a surprisingly slow pace. Just try to find an app that is currently running an iAd. I have read that Avantar's Yellow Pages and Showtimes apps were carrying placeholders for the new format, but I keep getting Google banners when I use these apps. I understand that AP Mobile will support the format at same point, and you may start seeing them today or tomorrow.
It was a good head feint on Apple's part, too, because I got a small pile of press notices from other ad networks all touting their own multimedia in-app and mobile Web units. Everyone else was scurrying to compete with a format that Apple itself was slow to deploy. How Microsoft of them.
If this is a revolution in mobile advertising, it is a disarmingly quiet one. How bizarre that people were resorting to an online video demo of an iAd in action because it was so hard to find the apps that actually were running one. Perhaps it is all part of Jobs' master plan. He is smarter than the rest of us, you know.
Well, here is one sure hit. At least as of this writing, July 8, the tip calculator Tiptitude is carrying iAds for the Nissan Leaf and Dove for Men. The Nissan iAd is viewable in an online video demo. It opens with a futuristic video that makes good use of the iPhone frame in portrait mode. Compelling, pin-sharp views of the far future land us back to the invention of the Leaf. We interact with a spinning car to enter what is essentially a lush micro-site that allows for a lot of tapping to gather car details. It has branding elements, informational elements, lead-gen pieces, etc. It is fine, but not much more than we have already seen from branded apps.
The Dove Men+Care ad is a bit more interesting. It leverages the high-res screen of the iPhone nicely with soap suds on the opening splash screen and a set of panels that tap into several interactive elements around sport stars Albert Pujols and Andy Pettitte. In addition to up-close-and-personal videos of both, we get interactive immersions into their own play rooms. Pettitte offers up personalized voice mail messages of encouragement and congratulations you can send to friends. A nice map integration puts Dove-branded icons on my local stores that carry the new liquid soap.
All of this is all well and good, but if the first run of iAds indicates a revolution in mobile advertising I must have missed it. At best they are branded apps in other apps. This may help some advertisers overcome the branded app distribution problem. Now they can just intercept users in the course of their usual app chores rather than convince them (often unsuccessfully) that they should download a discrete program designed and dedicated to a consumer brand. In an odd way, this model invites brands to take a step backward from the utilitarian content-driven approach demanded by the original branded app concept. In an iAd, marketers aren't necessarily compelled to be useful, and can fall back to their traditional mode of advertising product.
But for now, this brand exposure occurs in apps that are hard to find. One aspect of the iAds model still puzzles me; it is leveraging the long tail. Apple is pitching the model mainly for small to medium developers looking to monetize their apps. But many large branded-media publishers are still trying to do the math on whether they should be incorporating iAds into their inventory. After all, why should they agree to Apple's revenue split and cede space, data and the customer to someone else? And so the inventory is (or will be) scattered across countless tip calculators, games and movie-show-time look-ups? Is this an ad system that will rely almost entirely on advanced audience targeting?
According to reports, the Unilever marketing director says that Apple is using audience data to target the Dove ads to married men in their late 30s with children. Well, OK, maybe. Aren't there some natural questions here about contextual relevance and quality of environment, too?
I will keep drilling for apps and iAds that actually engage me, but I am underwhelmed by what I see so far. The Nissan and Dove executions are fine...just fine. But they feel like promotional microsites, not creative projects that understand the personal nature of the device or try to entertain the user in appealing ways. And they certainly don't represent a next great stage in mobile advertising.