I don't think I can be accused of being in the tank for iAds. I continue to be puzzled by the basic model of anchoring a rich multimedia experience to the lure of a simple banner ad. The load times for some of this creative are frustrating, even when I am sitting on top of my router. As I have complained before, the creative executions on many of the first and second generation iAds were underwhelming and played just a bit too safe. In fact, in my last round of Apple-gnashing over this format, I asked for something more story-like than just a mobile micro-site.
So it is only fair to recognize when an iAd actually satisfies some of my own criteria for a better mobile marketing experience. Recently added to the iAd gallery is what may be the best mobile ad I have seen in my eight years or so covering this segment. The Nespresso is a capsule-based quick espresso maker of the sort I would never use. My caffeine addiction is legendary to family, friends and any of you who have seen me drain the pots at OMMA shows. I am a purist and hold no truck with stinkin' capsules. Still, this ad for Nespresso is good enough to make me curious. The banner come-on is excellent: an animated drop-in of bird and product that asks cleverly, "Could you compare a humming bird to an espresso machine?" Simple as it may seem, the second-person query is an engaging puzzle and initiates the nature of the discourse that occurs throughout the iAd experience. Tapping into the ad initiates a fun animated journey in which the user engages in simple tasks that activate the main iPhone attributes: tap to chase the hummingbird, swipe to pet the bunny, shake to assemble the espresso machine, tip to add water.
The difference between this and more gimmicky executions is that the interactivity is narrated with a mildly ironic British voice that thanks us for the actions we take and ties the interludes into a product attribute. It helps that the product itself is a gorgeous piece of work that seems to map well with the entire design gestalt of Apple and the iPhone. The hi-res video of circling into the machine is ideal for the phone's retina display. Oceans of rich colorful dots explode from the espresso capsules and multiple models of the device, in much the same way iPod Nanos and iPad 2 cases are Wonka-like candy stands of color. The very simple cut-out style animation contrasts beautifully with the sleek high-tech nature of the product being advertised and yet expresses the streamlined, one-button nature of making a Nespresso.
But ultimately, the ad tells a story. It turns a product's features into a narrative, but one that exploits the unique qualities of the mobile device and lures us through an experience in a wholly engaging and entertaining way. Give me this over a pre-roll any day. Give me this over an endless branded video. And even give me this over a fully user-controlled experience and rich landing page or microsite. One of the downsides of the consumer-in-control ethos of the digital age is the fetish over offering choices rather than genuine experiences and stories. When you fall into the Nespresso ad, the marketer is in control, to be sure, but this user at least feels captivated -- not captured -- here.
On balance, however, there are still the usual iAd nits to pick. I can't imagine how frustrating this ad must be over a mediocre 3G connection. There were load times between the segments of the experience itself. The cleverness of the creative banked considerable good will with me, but the ad definitely was drawing down on that account throughout. This iAd, developed by a French agency Soleil Noir, seems to have run mainly in Europe.
But ultimately it works. I may not buy one of these Nespresso makers but I am intrigued enough to want to see one and perhaps test it. And I am not even that sure that the ad itself makes a lot of sense in the mobile context -- as it makes sense within the iPhone context by using the device's interactive features to fun effect. Finally, a mobile ad not only leverages the device but uses the mode of second-person address that is also native to the phone and does what this multimedia communications gadget is best at -- talking us through a story.