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Click-through is a relic of the past, but what's next?

by Chuck Lenatti

December 7 2011

Ralph Lauren created a magazine app within the New York Times' magazine, and then bought all the ad positions for a month to promote it.
Ralph Lauren created a magazine app within the New York Times' magazine, and then bought all the ad positions for a month to promote it.

Increasingly the answer is 'engagement', and it's forcing advertisers and marketers to step way out of their comfort zones

Thanks at least in part to Apple's new Newsstand, magazines and newspapers seem to be enjoying a resurgence among subscribers that many would have thought unattainable just a year ago. 

The earliest example of this success came shortly after the launch of the newsstand, when the Association of Online Publishers reported that Future Publishing had racked up more than 2 million container downloads in four days after launching 50 titles on Newsstand. Conde Nast has reported over a 250% jump in subscriptions for the same reason.

That's certainly good news for publishers, who over the past 18 months have invested considerable effort and resources adapting their publications to tablet devices. But pulling out of the economic doldrums the industry has been stuck in for the past several years will require more than a dramatic uptick in subscriptions. It will require advertising, and lots of it.

The sheer number of units sold indicate that the iPad is a viable platform, said Mike Molnar, managing partner at digital advertising agency Glow Interactive. “Advertisers need to understand it and they need to be there because it's not going down, it's going up.”

But what will it look like? 

No one can say for sure what advertising will look like on the iPad in two years’ time, but standard IAB web banners and pop-ups have already crept into many iPad  publications. “We're deathly afraid that the iPad ad model will mimic the ad model on the Web, said Molnar. "It's not made to be interacted with that way."

“On the iPad, in totality right now, they're still working off an old click-through model,” said Molnar. “The device engages with people and they're not providing any engaging ads.” Vendors are looking for a turnkey approach, he said. “If you think you can take an ad that's intended for the PC, put it through a machine, churn it out and place it on the iPad, you might not be wrong, but the experience is not right.”

It's the wrong approach for a number of reasons. For one, the real estate on a 10-inch iPad is too small to accommodate typical banner ads without crowding the screen. But mostly, using the types of display advertising that dominates personal computers doesn't take into consideration how people use the iPad or capitalize on the unique qualities of the device.

As former Time Inc. journalist Josh Quittner, who recently joined social magazine Flipboard, told CNET: “What's not needed is another unsustainable advertising model in new media. What is needed is a really smart way of turning advertising from a nuisance into a service.”

Examples of “smart” iPad advertising are still relatively scarce, partly because universally accepted standards for tablet advertising have not yet been established. But some interesting possibilities are beginning to emerge.

Ralph Lauren's retro recursive risk

Polo Ralph Lauren, for instance, sponsored The New York Times iPad app for the entire month of September with what amounted to a branded Ralph Lauren Magazine app within the Times app.

This was the first time the NYT app had sold all its inventory to a single sponsor, and had an ironic retro twist. Thirty years ago, company founder Ralph Lauren developed 24-page advertising sections based on themes such as the American West or safaris that appeared in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. “The idea was to create a content experience that the reader would really be immersed in,” said Todd Haskell, vice president of ad sales for The New York Times. “He did this for a number of years while he was establishing that brand.” Thirty years later, Ralph Lauren's son David, who now runs  marketing and communications for the Ralph Lauren Company, told The Times that he wanted to do what his dad had previously done, but on the the iPad.

Thanks to Ralph Lauren's abundance of content, Haskell said, “we were able to create a really beautiful experience that is very much at the level that people would expect from a publisher, and have the entire thing delivered within an advertising experience.” The Ralph Lauren iPad app in The Times included about 100 pages of content, around a dozen video elements, full e-commerce functionality and a live, real-time video of a Ralph Lauren fashion show in New York.

“Nobody has ever live-streamed a show into an iPad app, let alone an app within an app,” said Haskell. “I was terrified as we were doing it, but it worked incredibly well. There were no hiccups whatsoever. It wasn't the safe move, but it was the right move.”

Readers expect the same level of quality from advertising as they do from The Times journalism, Haskell said. “When things are done beautifully, readers engage with them.”

Touch + swipe = engagement (and $$$)

While Internet advertising values CTR, length of engagement will be the new currency for tablet ads, argues Glow Interactive's Molnar. “We've moved from point and click to touch and swipe. This gives advertisers a tremendous advantage because users have a much more direct connection with a brand when they can actually touch it and experience it this way. This is how they engage with these devices,” he said.

Glow developed an ad, also for The New York Times, that appealed to the curiosity of iPad users and their willingness to touch and swipe just to see what will happen. In the ad for the USA Network detective series White Collar,  readers could play sleuth by searching for clues on The New York Times site. The one-day in-browser rich media ad won awards from MOBi and OMMA for “Best iPad/Tablet Ad” and “Best Rich Media—Single Execution,” respectively.

“In a short time, we were able to engage people in a way they've never been engaged before, put a metric to it and deliver against it,” Molnar said. “Our goal is always to get people to interact with what we do.”

If you can get people to spend five minutes in an ad, the likelihood of them making a purchase, watching a show or booking a ticket far outweighs the likelihood of them not, said Molnar. “A click-through rate? A click-through is like walking into a store, trying on a sweater and leaving without buying. It means you caught my eye and I went there, but what did I get from it?”

Molnar said Glow Interactive also developed an ad based on an interactive quiz for an A&E Network show.  “We have metrics where I held people for more than three minutes in our ad,” he said. “It was just a simple video quiz, but everybody actually took the video quiz to completion. We had a 17% interaction rate with it, which is almost twice the benchmark for entertainment. It's just getting people in, holding them there and delivering something. In order to hold them, you better have something to deliver.”

It's time for iPad advertising to be taken seriously, said The New York Times' Haskell. “We expect that the advertising in our tablets should have the same aesthetic quality as what we want to do journalistically. Brands need to hold themselves up to that standard, and I think Ralph Lauren did a great job of that,” he said.

“This is a grownup medium and people need to treat it as a grownup medium. (Advertisers) expect the same type of accountability and transparency as on the website, and that's what we deliver, which is incredibly important for smart marketers,” said Haskell.

“When people buy a sponsorship on The New York Times iPad app, we treat them  like any  campaign on the website. We guarantee line items, number of impressions and CPMs, so you have full visibility running a campaign on the iPad app just as you would on the website,” he said.

“This is a really good product for us that delights our readers and advertisers,” said Haskell. “It's been very easy for us to make the analytical analysis to say, 'This is not an experiment; this is a business for us.'”

Chuck Lenatti writes about digital media, marketing, and advertising. He lives in Pacifica, California.

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