iPadvertising: What to Expect

Esquire, the men’s publication from Hearst, is planning to offer an iPad-version of its April issue. It’s one of a handful of magazine and newspaper publishers committed to offering content specifically created to be read on Apple’s breakthrough new device. In the iPad version, there is rumored to be a feature where five singer-songwriters were asked to write a song that contains the line “somewhere in Mississippi,” and the iPad version will have video and audio of the songs.

It’s a good line. You can imagine it at the beginning of a song, setting a story in a vivid location, or even at the end, summarizing a set of feelings that could be anywhere. It is good copy – specific enough to tell you something (“in Mississippi”), but vague enough (“somewhere”) to engage your imagination. Sort of like the iPad itself.

The iPad comes out this week. Maybe some of you have one. Maybe some of you are reading this column on one! At this point, as I’m writing this, there are lots of things known about the iPad and lots of things still unknown. The number one question still seems to be whether or not anyone will buy the thing (besides, of course, the Apple fanboys who have been salivating over this thing since before it even existed).

That specificity/vagueness carries over as well to the publishers, like Esquire, who are creating versions of their content, specifically for the device. There are a few things that we do know:

  • A small number of large publishers will offer iPad versions of their content when the device launches.

  • These publishers will charge for this content. Some will charge a single download fee, others will offer a subscription package. But make no mistake: content is not going to be free here.
  • These publications will be ad supported, and the ads will take advantage of the inherent interactivity and connectivity of the iPad.
  • Publishers are selling these ads based on a model that borrows more from print than from online. They are selling space in publication, not impressions.

That last point, that publishers are selling space and not impressions, may be due to the fact that the first iPad issue may be a big deal, and they can sell the space at premium. But it also shows that, right now, no one really knows how many people will see those ads, or interact with them. But, something just feels right about selling advertising on iPad content this way. I think it has to do with the way people will think about what the device is and what it means to them personally.

Visit vs. Own

You visit a Web site, but you own a magazine. Or you get a newspaper. Whatever the verb, there is some sense of “having” when you deal with content in the real world that has always lacked in the online space. The great hope of the iPad – and the other devices that will follow it – is that it will bridge the incredible power of having content digitally, with the incredible satisfaction of having your content with you.

Which gets us into a place where we can begin to imagine what advertising will come to look and feel like within the context of these devices. I am sure that not all of the advertiser/publisher relationships will look like they do now, at launch. But there are some things we can understand and expect:

  • There will be free content, and that content will have ads. It just simply must. There will be publishers that either want to give their work out without an initial charge, or there will be publishers who want to challenge the big guys, and will do so with the content model that we have come to expect online.

  • There will be interactivity in the ads, but not the way we’re used to. Because the iPad won’t do Flash, there will have to be some workarounds. Interactive ads will need to be programmed from scratch, using Apple’s software development kit, or (potentially) created using HTML5. But, soon we can expect that the companies that have built efficiencies around the creation of interactive ads online will apply their thinking to the iPad.
  • Contextual advertising will find its way in.
  • Behavioral advertising will get a massive boost. The power of the mobile format coupled with the integration with a device you always have will present a treasure trove of data to the behavioral targeting guys, and they will generate some great new stuff.
  • Ad networks will emerge, modeled after the ad networks that connect games. Since much content will be downloaded and installed, a network that will allow a single advertiser to put an ad into many different spaces will be necessary.

The one other thing, though, is that we don’t quite know what we’ll see. This is a new device. I don’t know if it deserves the triple scoop of hype that it has received, but it definitely will introduce some new thinking around what an ad is, as well as what online and offline is. And what fixed and mobile is. Which means that, somewhere, (maybe even in Mississippi) someone is coming up with a completely new model.

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