How to Be Cool Like an Apple iAd

A friend of mine had dinner with a Hollywood casting agent for movies and commercials. Apparently, the agent reported that ad agencies “are absolutely ‘gaga’ about the new Apple iAds and plan to pour clients’ money into it.”

It seems that Apple has once again entered an established market and made it cool.

How can we bring some of that cool to our ads, networks, and content?

Are Apple iAds Better?

In his introduction of the iAd, Steve Jobs asked, “Have you ever seen an ad like this?”

Yes, Steve, we have. I wrote about “adplications” in November 2009.

This approach brings to mind the Lucky Strike scene from the TV show Mad Men. Advertising genius Don Draper attempts to sell the slogan, “Lucky Strike’s is toasted” to the cigarette company.

“But, everybody else’s tobacco is toasted,” declares one of the Lucky Strikes executives.

“Everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous,” Draper replies smugly. “Lucky Strike’s is toasted.”

Steve Jobs takes the same approach. “The iAd is interactive and emotional,” he seems to say. “Everybody else’s is interruption.”

Was iAd the first network to offer rich, interactive applications? No, Steve.

Was iAd the first network to offer video ads that “deliver emotion”? No, Steve.

Like Don Draper, Steve Jobs has made iAds cool by selling features that everyone else has. However, if this was the only thing iAds had going for it, the honeymoon with the marketplace would be short indeed.

Apple Sells iAds to Its Users

The thing that Apple has done so well as an ad network is to sell the target audience on the concept of the iAd. The iAd was trotted out at the big Worldwide Developers Conference along with the new iPhone and the iPad.

Jobs positions the iAd network as “good for developers” because it gives them a way to make money on their apps, and “good for the user” because developers can keep their apps cheap and free. While this is the promise made by any ad-supported content, Jobs makes it sound very charitable.

There are few ad networks that have a platform to sell the target audience on the very concept of receiving messages from advertisers. Google and Yahoo have been a hit with advertisers, but not necessarily with surfers.

So, right now, if you put an ad out on the iAd network, you’ll find an eager audience waiting to see what goodies have been included with their apps. It will be interesting to see how long iPhone, iPod, and iPad users remain excited about iAds.

Being iAd Cool

Now that we know what makes mobile ads “cool,” how can we be “iAd cool” on other mobile platforms with broader reach, higher frequency, and better fill rates?

Advertisers can be cool by:

  • Advertising in mobile applications. (Jobs makes a pretty good case that mobile users use apps to find answers rather than search.)
  • Delivering a valuable service, being entertaining, or doing both.

Ad networks and demand-side platforms can be cool by:

  • Making it easy for advertisers to create these apps. (Apple has an established app-development infrastructure, and these ads are just apps.)
  • Making it easy for publishers to integrate these ads.
  • Giving publishers some tools to “sell” the ads to their audience.
  • Making it easy for the reader to get back to where they were. (This may be the most significant advantage of the iAd ecosystem.)

For publishers, the primary lesson is to get your visitors to see advertising as a benefit. Don’t let advertising be the dirty little secret that hides behind your content. Make it part of the experience.

Someday, you should be able to say with a straight face, “Welcome to our application. In addition to our awesome content, we’ve got some exciting ads to show you, so buckle your seat belt!”

This isn’t easy if you’re not Apple, but every provider of content has their fanboys. Here are some ways publishers are differentiating their ads today:

  • Promising better privacy and opt-out capabilities. Apple has clamped down on the analytics that advertisers can collect with their ads.
  • Providing social proof. For example, publishers could tell readers how many people have clicked on an ad.
  • Making it more social. Tell readers who clicked on an ad. Facebook is already telling us which of our friends “Like” an ad.
  • Letting visitors rate ads and comment on them.

Much of this requires cooperation from a publisher’s ad networks, and these ideas may not sit well with all advertisers. That leaves publishers with little control and little incentive to innovate.

An App Without the App Store

An iAd is a mobile app with a different name. When Apple talks about putting iAds inside mobile apps, he’s talking about putting apps inside apps. This will certainly get more advertisers publishing apps and paying for the right to do so. This lets them bypass the App Store. IAds don’t have to be purchased and downloaded.

As a consumer, I hope that the natural result of Apple making iAds cool is that we’ll see more of this kind of ad: applications that entertain us or provide valuable services.

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