The New Online Advertising is Rich in Scientific Method

life-sciencesIf you’ve seen iOS 7, the new iPhone operating system from Apple, you know that it’s a menagerie of visual effects. Fake zooms, slide animations, and parallax – the sense that the icons are floating on the screen – all combine to create an experience straight out of a 3D Sci Fi movie.

The volume and intensity of visual bells and whistles is actually causing some users to report feelings of motion sickness and nausea, but could it also be indicative of a trend? Do scientific theories like optical and cognitive illusion have a place in digital advertising? Do other branches of science apply?

The answer is an emphatic YES! Developers and marketers have long been blending the two, with functional and attention-grabbing results. Digital media sits at the intersection of computer science and art, where data and design merge to persuade and inform. It borrows heavily from numerous scientific principles. Here’s how:

Multivariate Testing

Ever since the 18th century, when researchers conducted controlled experiments to find a cure for scurvy, multivariate testing has provided us a way to determine the most effective course of action by testing various potential combinations in search of the ideal outcome.

In the world of online media, we’ve used multivariate testing since the early days of Google’s Website Optimizer and Yahoo SmartAds. The technology behind these kinds of tools tests everything from ad copy to image and color to duration of animation, to establish the combination that’s best suited to the audience for which the content is intended and most likely to produce results.

Today, countless site, rich media, email, and mobile developers offer some kind of multivariate or A/B testing solution for their advertisers. It’s medical science we have to thank for this strategy, which is likely to increase in value as the Web becomes more cluttered and consumers more difficult to reach.

Field of View

A concept related to the physics of optics, field of view is a term most often tied to microscopes and binoculars. As part of a mobile contest for consumers, however, Heineken made use of it on Instagram. Users were invited to participate in a photo hunt for the chance to win a pair of tickets to the 2013 US Open. The goal was to scroll through Heineken’s mobile Instagram page to find a particular person in the crowd, follow clues found in photograph captions, and decipher a code word for the win.


As a US Open sponsor, Heineken made good use of its affiliation by leveraging related photos in a clever way. That the pictures were supplied as a vast panoramic image encouraged consumers to spend more time engaging with the Instagram account and Heineken brand. In fact, panoramas have become a popular visual marketing tool, used for event-specific multimedia features in newspapers like The Guardian and the New York Times. Other advertisers are using the concept too: Microsoft recently launched Ad Pano, a new panoramic ad format designed to mimic video that “gives advertisers unlimited storytelling potential” online.


Just a couple of days before the launch of iOS 7, ad network Blogads introduced a new ad format that also makes use of the principle of parallax, in which the placement of objects can cause one’s perspective to shift. In this case, parallax was incorporated into an ad skin, which Blogads developed for the iPad.

The iPad Parallax skin allows advertisers to place slogans, logos, and other visual elements tied to the brand in a way that coordinates with user scrolling. The first execution of the format promotes Bravo TV reality series “I Dream of Nene: The Wedding” and ran on the mobile site. When the user scrolls down to read more of the article next to the ad, the series logo and show time fall away. They’re replaced with a quote from the star of the show.

Ad developers have long been known to experiment with digital technology in the name of progress and innovation, but the result can sometimes feel contrived. In this case, the parallax effect expands the brand’s usable ad space and draws further attention to the ad without feeling overly intrusive. “Parallax ads play along with the reader’s tactile experience of the iPad,” says Henry Copeland, founder and CEO of Blogads. “Each finger swipe unlocks a new layer of the advertiser’s creative and encourages more interaction.”

Examining the ways in which traditional science and digital advertising collide can be a fascinating exercise. Both are based on gathering knowledge to generate useful results. Where creating online advertising is concerned, science couldn’t be more useful.

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