Commentary

Tap and Swipe All You Want -- It's Still Just an Ad

The iPad iAds are here! The iPad iAds are here! 

Oh, give me a break. Maybe I am still hung over from the iPad 2 hype-apalooza of last weekend. While lines formed outside the local Apple store on Friday to nab a modestly updated version of the iPad, I decided to pass up even going to observe. The small army of clapping, blue-shirted staffers applauding fan-boy devotion is starting to creep me out. Instead I waltzed into my nearby Best Buy, where two demo units of the lighter, faster tablet were on display -- no lines. While they likely were sold out, I played around enough with the demo to know I wasn't going to be missing much by sitting on my iPad 1 for now. And I certainly was not going to miss sitting in line with Vulcans blogging about the thrill.

But hot on the heels of one gasp of breathless press coverage, Apple launches iAds for the iPad this week with an inaugural campaign from Unilever (Dove Men+Care). Of course a test run of the iAd format on iPad ran late last year from a TRON promotion, but this unit marks the official launch, where developers now can tap into the iAd network for their iPad apps. The details of the execution are reported by our own Sarah Mahoney on the MarketingDaily blog. 

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While we all try to hunt down an occurrence of the new iAd, it is well worth remembering that some interesting and compelling iPad ad integrations are already in the wild.  

I am especially fond of the way NPR's app handles sponsors. Rotating supporters like Toyota and Columbia University get a "Support provided by" bug at the bottom of the app and the familiar radio voice of NPR's sponsor plugs in a full screen. The Toyota execution is very good. It lets the user drag a car through the assembly line to meet the Toyota family of employees. Here is a case where touch is used to deliver both a message and a unique kind of engagement with the meaning of that message.  

AP's iPad app has a unique way of integrating sponsorship. The app uses a river of thumbnails and headlines to organize its content, and the ad for the 2011 Lincoln MKX is one of them. It pops the user over to what approaches a mini-app, including a batch of personable videos with two tech journalists discussing the car's tech as well as a small river of content logs to call up. This execution certainly speaks to the effectiveness of the custom build that keeps the sponsor within the interface metaphor and native architecture of the app itself. The iAd app-within-an-app concept is fine conceptually. But in execution it usually requires that the user reorient himself to a new navigational style.  

In too many cases, iPad in-app banners click through to a full Web site that is neither formatted for nor sometimes compatible with the iPad. I have been shuttled onto too many iPad ad landing pages that have microscopic hot spots and broken Flash boxes. So it was refreshing to see a banner in the NY Times iPad app for Salvatore Ferragamo luxury accessories. The ad called up the embedded browser but landed on page after page of screen filling high fashion imagery. The execution was well-intentioned but hampered by technical issues - mainly jerky movement from long page load times. Still, the impact filling the iPad screen with your branded goods and vision is basic but effective.

The standard movie micro-site gets expanded and enriched for the iPad with the upcoming premiere of "Paul." In Flixster,  a pop-up invites you to play a trivia game and drops you into the mini-site, complete with quiz, back story, image gallery, wallpaper downloads, trailer and direct links to ticketing. There is nothing surpassing or new here, but the larger screen makes for more immersive images. Alas, some of the functions were broken when I tried them, including the quiz. <

One would think that some of the tech glitches and poor landing page experiences I continue to find in iPad ads would recommend a purportedly polished and well-tested iAd system. Not necessarily. When I finally did come upon the Dove ad (in the Huffington Post app, for you iAd hunters) it crashed twice before finally executing successfully, and then it took a good 10 seconds to load its assets, even though I was sitting on top of my router. And the final product turns out to be elaborate but only modestly engaging -- much like the original iPhone iAd for Dove. Basically it is a collection of short video spots with sports figures underscoring the "Journey to Comfort" theme and a bunch of product shots all stuffed into an overhead scoreboard. If the user stays interested long enough, they get to the one interesting value add: a Game Day Fan Zone that has the day's game schedule. A link to the various schools' songs with samples is a very nice touch.

 

This Dove execution is fine, but they have the equation backwards. I think. Perhaps this inaugural iPad iAd should have done something truly radical and game-changing that most iPad and mobile ads generally still are not doing -- giving the user something of value first and then letting the viewer decide if the brand earned their attention.    

 

Pretty, yes. Media-rich? Sure. But until marketers really take that next leap these intimate screens invite -- to dare to make true connections with consumers by leading with value -- they're all just ads, whether you slap an "i" in front of them or not. 

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