Opinion: The iPad and interactive advertising

With all the Flash vs. iPad, Adobe vs. Apple action out there, I thought I would explore how the iPad’s potential success might affect the interactive advertising world – where I spend most of my time.

Guesswork: Audience Impact

For my business, and to a larger extent, the interactive advertising community, the primary target for web experiences are desktop users. Most of our ad clients have invested enough in mobile web experiences to offer the “you need a desktop to view this site” type of solution. Flash still dominates many of our sites, not because it’s all we do, but because it has made sense for many reasons I can go into at another time.

We have been getting more requests for iPhone apps, which has added a new market for work, which has been great for vendors in the interactive ad space, but I don’t think this will play out the same way with the iPad. The iPhone is a great web browsing platform, but it really just added to the browsers out there rather than significantly replace any of the desktop browser audience in a serious way. With the possible iPad success, that changes: the iPad will start to replace those laptops, desktops, and netbooks that right now look and act just like any desktop browser to us. This is where we see the biggest changes to our work, and not having Flash support has some pretty big implications.

No Flash

Aside from the kids sites and games sites that have been tossed around in the ring, there are a lot of web experiences that, up until now, could only be created in Flash. A quick look at the Sites of the Year over at FWA reveal sites like Get the Glass, Vodafone Future Vision, Audi R8, The Eco Zoo, We Choose the Moon, Philips Bodygroom, Elf Yourself, and countless others. These are the types of sites we use Flash for and that many of our ad clients request.

With the iPad, we have a potential new browser on the market that doesn’t support the one viewport we could most relay upon to consistently deliver the interactivity and design precision we and our ad clients desire. This is not like having to deal with the collection of browsers we have today (even if you included IE6) where, for the most part, we could count on Flash to work consistently across all platforms that are supported (including those old crusty browsers). While we do safely degrade to non-Flash, non-JavaScript versions for that small percent of users that happen to meet those criteria, we have been pretty confident with our work being seen, again, consistently, by a large portion of the web audience. This will change with the iPad.

Did you catch that?

Up until now, the richer ad/brand experiences have gone something like:

  1. Friend says “check out cool site for FooBar”
  2. You go to site for FooBar, interact and hopefully enjoy

Now there will be the occasional download of plug-in, etc. but we can count on smooth sailing for at about 90% of users across most laptop/desktops. Now, on the iPad it will be:

  1. Friend says “check out cool site for FooBar”
  2. You go to site for Foobar (on your iPad)
  3. You click the link to download the FooBar app from App Store
  4. You Launch App for FooBar and interact and hopefully enjoy

It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but those extra two steps go a long way in making this particular brand experience a lot more work for the user, and potentially a bigger let down – a negative experience attributed to FooBar.

Gone is that easy experience of getting a site referral, or seeing a URL on a billboard and getting a fun (or not) interactive experience that you didn’t have to do more than type in a URL for. The effort was low so the pay-off seemed greater. With the iPad experience, the initial effort for the user is higher, so the pay-off has to be much better.

The pay-off

When the Flash plug-in was not the ubiquitous tool we have today, the prospect of requiring users to download a plug-in was something that was scary for us and our clients – we don’t want the user to jump through installation hoops for a few minutes of branded game-playing. Now we don’t worry so much, because Flash is so prevalent. We take the pay-off for granted because the audience for our client’s site is not feeling any extra burden for that additional richness in their web experience.

Now we are back to square one, where some of our audience may have to download an app that may take some time to download. They may even forget they were downloading it, or, what I think is more likely, they may choose not to download it. For our clients to get to those users, they have to have apps with real pay-off, enough to convince users to download the app and keep that download on their iPad long enough to have that interactive brand experience. For sites like Get the Glass, an iPad variation could make sense and you could see that app experience holding its own in the world of the App Store because it’s primarily a game experience. But what about the Vodafone Future Vision site? That’s a great site to stumble on or get passed to you via email or IM, but would you sit and download potentially hundreds of megs and install the app for this cool presentation? I love the experience as a web site, but as an iPad app I’m not so sure it’s suited. The client would have to have an iPad-specific experience, or decide the iPad users don’t get the richer brand experience that we do on the laptops, desktops, and netbooks. And you can’t expect to Elf Yourself on an iPad without a camera.

Convincing the clients

Today, when we are contracted to design and build an interactive brand experience in Flash, convincing our ad clients that we need to invest in a non-Flash experience, or a mobile-web-specific experience is difficult because you want to spend your budget on the cool stuff, on the wow factor. Soon, we will need to convince the client that they need extra budget to develop a separate site for this very specific browser market, that isn’t really that huge (not for a while anyway).

Using Adobe’s upcoming tools, we could export the Flash experience to an iPhone/iPad app and get users to download and install it. But wouldn’t we want to take advantage of the iPad’s awesome touch-oriented experience? Convincing the client of that will be even more difficult. So in the end, the iPad audience get’s the short end of the user experience stick.

Brand experiences on the iPad

It is inevitable that early iPad users will suffer the “you need to be on a desktop or laptop to view this experience” type of road block. Until our clients see a need to develop specific brand experiences via iPad-tailored HTML sites or App Store apps, we won’t get a lot of extra budget to make experiences solely for the iPad, especially for iPad apps that have to have a much bigger pay-off for the user.

I had been thinking that the iPad’s saving grace may just be the looming, possible proliferation of PC tablets – that will certainly increase the touch-sensitive tablet user audience and give vendors like us an opportunity to develop more tablet-sensitive brand experiences. Then again, the other tablets out there will likely support Flash, so it may be we will have to get used to the less friendly brand experience the iPad seems to be pushing on us. Either way, there’s a new type of interactive ad/brand experience coming.

Posted by: Michelangelo Capraro on  

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Category: mcapraro.com > Blog > Opinion

7 Responses to “The iPad and interactive advertising”

  1. duncan says: it’s going to be an adjustment for sure, the mobile web is going to be a lot more plain on ipad/iphone/itouch, which is disappointing in the short-term. i don’t think porting/replicating a flash experience as an ipad/iphone app is going to work for the reasons you state. ad agencies are going to need to tailor the iphone/ipad experience to do things that can either only be done, or only be done well on those devices. taking advantage of things like geolocation, peer-to-peer, accelerometer, camera (stupid gen one ipad), etc… to compliment/augment the core flash experience. if the agencies can craft a compelling enough app i think we’ll see some really neat stuff.

    it feels a bit like the director to flash transition in some ways, we lost so many capabilities when flash started to appear and i remember being frustrated at flash’s lack of maturity, the lame programming language and a bit sad to see director lose its status, but flash was so exciting, a completely different delivery mechanism, user expectation, interaction. i don’t think mobile apps will supplant flash like flash did to director, but i do see a ton of exciting, complimentary experience. of course the iphone/ipad/ipod web experience is still going to be broken.

  2. michelangelo says: yeah, i agree there will be (and to a certain extent their have been on the iPhone) some great iPad-only experiences, mostly via actual apps. It’s troubling that there would need to be a significant part of the interactive ad budget to making something that would only be for iPad owners. I guess you could convince the client that they could grab iPhone users as well, a much more lucrative market, but i dont think you could fashion an experience that would feel right on both the iPhone and iPad without some divergence in the actual user experience of the app – simple 2xing the resolution of an iPhone app doesnt cut it.

    to your point about creating experiences being tailored to the devices that can only be done well on the iPad, i’m curious to see what those end up being – without a camera, communications is seriously sniffled as an avenue.

  3. duncan mcalester says: i don’t think it’s reasonable for agencies to assume they’ll get and ipad/iphone version covered under the same budget as what is done now – not to say they won’t try – but even if the ipad/iphone had flash today flash experiences would need to be tailored to those devices because of the difference in interaction and processing power. mobile marketing is going to have to take on its own budgets to support other media, not try and eek out leftovers from web design. i guess ultimately i see this as expanding budgets and possibilities as opposed to diluting exisiting budgets.

  4. michelangelo says: Agreed Duncan. Right now I haven’t seen a lot of mobile web-specific budgets unless that is the entire nature of the project. Mainly we see an expectation that the fallback options will be enough on mobile platforms or just no consideration for mobile browsers at all.

    IPhone apps are a different story of course. I think if we see more touch-enabled pc slates, like the ones coming from Dell and HP, there’s a chance we may see that market taken more seriously.