Apple’s iPad Ads and Apps: A Mixed Bag

When I asked our accounts payable manager to cut a $543.29 check for an Apple iPad 16GB, she wasn’t buying the hype. “What are you going to do with that piece of junk?” she demanded to know. “Are you going to use it to play games?”

She caught me off guard. Didn’t she realize this device could single-handedly revive the sagging fortunes of traditional media companies? If this revolution isn’t going to be televised, we’d have to watch it on the iPad.

Consider this headline from a Christian Science Monitor article: “Apple iPad: Online media’s holy grail?” The report examines how the iPad’s wow factor – namely its stunning display and touch-screen technology may encourage brands to develop interactive ads and applications for the tablet. According to reports, advertisers are spending between $75,000 and $300,000 to sponsor applications at launch, typically for one to two months.

Some publishers also hope they can wean consumers off of free online content and charge for online subscriptions. Time magazine is charging $4.99 for a single digital issue, a move that is being questioned because it’s the same price as a print copy purchased. Not everyone else is as greedy, though.

Still, saving troubled publishers is a mighty tall order for a such a small device.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Mac fan. My 8GB Nano keeps me plugged into Diana Krall and Alison Krauss. I’m equally passionate about my MacBook Pro, which serves as my office workhorse, and the iMac in my home office. (By contrast, I never felt such an emotional connection to my first “portable” computer, a TRS-80 Model 100 and its kludgy acoustic coupler.)

But I digress.

After promising not to use the iPad to play games – at least not during business hours – we got the green light to buy our new toy.

Zach Rodgers, ClickZ’s news editor, wasted no time picking up the 16GB model from the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. He then downloaded a dozen or so apps from an assortment of publishers and commerce sites.

We discovered that some businesses – both advertisers and publishers – are making good use of the iPad’s interactive features. In these cases, it underscores how the roles of publishers, advertisers, and consumers are evolving. It really doesn’t matter who publishes what anymore. It just matters that it’s good.

Some promising examples of early iPad applications:

  • Marvel’s iPad app features an archive of digital issues of comic books. The colorful illustrations are stunning. Plus, it’s fun to scroll through an issue, panel by panel, using the iPad’s touchscreen. Marvel, which is charging $1.99 for each digital comic, says it optimized the comics for the iPad through “painstaking re-coloring and re-digitizing of select content.” And that’s not hype.

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  • Gap’s 1969 Stream app, which promotes the brand’s 1969 denim line, is more fun than flipping through the latest copy of Lucky magazine. It allows a viewer to mix and match articles of clothing that appear on a model – enabling her to see how one type of jeans (patched easy straight, faded always skinny, or another style) pairs up with a biker jacket, faded blazer, or another top. Without leaving the application, a consumer can make a purchase or click on an interactive store finder. If connected to the Internet, the store finder automatically points consumers to the nearest physical store.
  • Sports brands, such as the NBA, and publishers, such as USA Today, are taking stats and displaying them in vibrant and interactive applications. This is in stark contrast to sports scores that have appeared for decades in black and white agate type in newspapers.

Many inaugural advertisers on the iPad, however, offered only standard fare. Consider ads seen on four big media sites this week. Chase, which is promoting its Sapphire credit card, signed on as the exclusive sponsor of The New York Times Editors’ Choice app. And Courtyard Marriott’s video ad for its new lobby is featured on the USA Today app.

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Let’s hope the next-gen of iPads ads from these and other brands make better use of the tablet’s rich, colorful display and touch-screen technology. It’s the Mac, after all.

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