Wait, Let Me See That Ad Again...

A funny thing happened on the way to the focus group research on iPad magazine apps. The readers actually asked to see those ads again. For this month's issue of Media magazine, I covered the magazine industry's enthusiasm for tablet platforms. Both Sports Illustrated's content chief Terry McDonnell and Jerry Beilinson, deputy editor of Popular Mechanics, related having the same unprecedented experience in their iPad focus groups. The testers asked to go back and see the ads again. It surprised both of them. In research like this, "you don't see that," says Beilinson.

  There were loads of reports of agencies paying magazine companies iAd-like fees for early entry into the first mag apps. Theoretically, of course, and compared to print, the iPad opens up a world of possibilities for the advertisers. Unfortunately, most of what it opens up in these early stages looks a lot like a Web site. In most cases I am not so sure what these testers wanted to flip back to see again. Embedding a video frame into a static page Harry Potter-style is novel for the first few times. Then you realize you mainly just got suckered into watching the same old TV 15 or 30 for the umpteenth time. I am pretty sure the world wasn't waiting for another place to plant repurposed TV creative.



Among the best uses of video I have seen thus far in magazine ad is the NBC promotion of  "The Event" in this month's Wired app. Multiple ad pages (screens?) interspersed in an editorial section tap through to video previews of the show, where the actor addresses the Wired reader directly. The content is varied, deep and customized to the audience. It has a kind of serialized feel.

The promise of the iPad for advertisers is not that it gets the brand into the user's face in a new way or draws attention to itself by dazzling you. The real beauty of it is that it gives the advertisers a platform to deliver real content, real value, not just interruption. You have the opportunity to be a publisher. Conde Nast Traveler has a nice way of pulling together its partner cruise lines into a wall of tiles. Tapping any one zooms into the tile and offers up a multimedia brochure that can include galleries, video tours and a link to the Web site. It is convenient and makes the brands feel more like content. On the other hand, the app's actual sponsor, Microsoft Bing, intercedes at the app's front door and asks if you want to "Bing and Decide." Tapping into the experience (I kid you not) bounces you out of the app and into a Safari browser page. Insert your own Microsoft vs. Apple joke in here.

Piling on the ad assets can be one way to leverage the platform, but I am not sure turning a single page ad into a familiar magazine insert is the best use of the space, either. Verizon is lurching towards an iPad ad model in its multi-page execution in Time's app this week. In portrait mode, the ad invites you to see more by going landscape, and then you can scroll laterally through three more Verizon two-page ads, finally landing in an embedded browser page to its sales site. In Vanity Fair, Chevrolet Camaro is more impressive with the brochure-like quality of its ad, which launches a rich gallery and video collection. Again, there is novelty and some value for the curious here, but in some ways these are following a more-is-more approach. More room for more ads. Are any consumers really looking for that?

Without a doubt the most engaging iPad magazine ad I have seen thus far was Gatorade's Flick Football game embedded in a Sports Illustrated app ad page. If anything, the ad is understated, in that the casual reader might not get that the drink brand ad is really asking to drop you into a full-touch game experience. It is classic Flick Football, but you have three tries to push your triangular "ball" down field and around three static defenders. The animations are cool, the branding ever-present without being annoying, the value to the SI reader inarguable. The promotion leverages the interface, the specific target audience, and the opportunity to deliver a wholly new and different experience that probably wouldn't work as well on the Web.

In tandem, both magazine publishers and their advertisers are beginning to think outside of their received experiences in print and the Web, and rethinking what is possible on these devices. The opportunity is not for "more" advertising -- but for substantially different ways of creating experiences for consumers.

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