Commentary

Glance-o-Vision: The Lock Screen As New Media Space

Locket is an Android app that runs full-screen ads on the lock screen of your Android device every time you check the phone or tablet. And it pays you a credit each time you elect to swipe left to see the ad instead of swiping right to open your device normally. But before your eyes roll at this umpteenth attempt to trade user ad views for rewards or cash, let’s give co-founder Christopher Crawford credit. He invokes the troubled legacy of “AllAdvantage” (which paid users to Web surf back in 2000) before you can even remember what that lame-brained scheme was named. And he piles on other incentivized app download models as well as the many Euro schemes for trading ad views for wireless minutes. He knows very well that we have been down this road many times before.

“But the types of content they show is very down the funnel,” he insists. “You don’t see quality brand advertising coming through them.” Okay, but on the other hand, those of us who have been covering the digital space since, well, forever, have also been through countless attempts to finally (no, really this time) bring serious branding to a digital space that is still predominantly DR. Crawford and his startup believe the phone lock screen is unique real estate in people’s lives. It is referenced up to 150 times a day by many of us, and so an ad there can make an impression whether a user engages it or not. Crawford sees something very old school here. “We look at it as a miniature billboard or another attempt to bring print ads to mobile.”

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I will admit that he is not entirely wrong. I installed the app on a Nexus 7 tablet and spent a couple of days letting it make an impression as I used the device normally. When well-crafted (and Locket currently is doing its own creative executions both for direct clients and ads it is pulling from select networks) the model grew on me, although it made me imagine something much larger than an ad canvas. There is an element of pleasant surprise attached to unlocking the device because you never know what you are going to see. The images are generally pleasant and with a print ad sensibility. Crawford says the company admires what Flipboard has done with its interstitial in-app ads, and Locket has a similar print ad feel to it.

In the first couple of weeks that the app was available in test campaigns the app was already serving 3 million impressions a day and seeing clickthroughs on the ads on average of 3.5%. A lock screen ad for Bombfell, for instance, was getting 62,000 daily impressions and enjoying 6.2% CTR, while a campaign for the film Ender’s Game had 71,000 daily impressions and a 7.7% CTR. Users of the app tended toward the higher end of the Android device scale -- with a lot of Samsung S3 and S4 models in the mix. The 18-34 age segment comprises 76% of the Locket user base in these early days. “Our target was to get 10,000 downloads in the first month,” he tells me. “We got that within a day.” When I spoke with him a week after launch they had over 50,000 downloads with an 80% retention rate so far.

On one level Locket is using the old pay-per-ad-view model for consumers. I was racking up a few dollars in credits simply by swiping left on my Android tablet and engaging the ad before dropping into my usual tablet chores. But Crawford said one of the flaws in the consumer incentive model is that it tends to scare away the advertisers Locket aspires to grab. Many brands don’t want incentivized traffic because they associate it with direct response. “We were limiting the advertiser types,” he says. And so they do not intend the app to be seen as a big moneymaker for consumers. The have a cap on how much credit a consumer can accrue in a given year -- between $100 and $300. “It is a number substantial enough for someone to be willing to install the app. But over time it is retention through the quality of the ads.”

In fact, the ads better be good, because Locket is proposing replacing one of the most intimate spaces that people often reserve for family or pet photos. In the early testing Locket found that moms who play in the couponing space were especially receptive to the model, but the value exchange had to be more than trivial in order to get their attention. The users were turned off by too much direct advertising, which helped Crawford and co. start aiming for higher up the funnel. “If the ads weren’t intrusive they were willing to use it,” Crawford says.

With scale, the Locket ads could target to the usual demos as well as geo, daypart and user histories of engagement. But one of the intriguing aspects of the model is the way a lock screen channel like this could play with dayparts, roadblocks, all-day buyouts, sequential messaging. If the average user is opening their device up to 150 times a day, that creates a unique -- albeit highly fragmented -- canvas on which to paint.

I wonder if the optimal model for this would be a combination of advertising and content discovery. Much like StumbleUpon, the value of a lock screen app could come in providing the user with serendipity. I would be happy to forgo any nominal rewards from an app like this if it actually could manage to delight me a few times a day with fresh content opportunities or even a relevant headline. Throw some ads into that mix and you have a new medium that works on our consciousness as a collection of 150 or so cumulative looks a day. It could be a montage of diverse elements or a sequential narrative or a contextually aware reflections of where I am in my day or physical space. But it is a new part of media experience created by this all-day ritual of checking in with our devices. Maybe it is a new medium -- glance-o-vision.    

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