iAd and Advertising As a Service

April 14th, 2010

There are a number of interesting angles to analyze Apple’s new advertising platform, iAd. What I want to focus on, though, is what it means for how advertising is conducted, and what advertising should be.

Apple’s proposition is that ads, to be most effective, must be emotional and interactive. When Jobs talked about emotion in an ad, what he was really saying is ads need to be convincing and real–something in it must grab you. Something in it has to resonate with you.

That’s exactly right. All good advertisement does this. Apple’s “Think Different” campaign was effective because it was genuine. At its heart, Apple believes in changing society, in improving our lives. They don’t like making devices for the sake of making them. They like it because it is a medium for change. Watch Jonathan Ive talk about designing the iPad, and you’ll see it. This was immediately clear in the campaign, and it clicked with people that believe in creating.

All advertisement, in some way, must convey what’s genuinely special about the product, service or company to the viewer. If it doesn’t do that, it’s a waste of time. That’s the important part of what Apple’s trying to do: they want to create an advertising platform for quality ads that are actually worth looking at.

Ads do not need to be interactive to be emotional. Indeed, there are many cases where a simple image, or question, is much more convincing than something the user can manipulate. How convincing an ad is depends on the content of it primarily, not how it is presented. Interaction certainly does not equal emotion.

That isn’t why Apple wants ads to be interactive, however. Interactivity can amplify how convincing an ad is, if done well. Look at the Toy Story 3 ad Jobs demoed during the iPhone OS 4 event. The character browser, video, and especially the local showtimes for the film, make the ad much more useful to the viewer. They can get insight into the film, and then decide if they want to go see it–all without leaving the “ad.” Apple wants interactive ads because, if done well, it transforms ads into something immediately beneficial. The Toy Story 3 ad isn’t just seeking to plant its name in your memory, but to give you useful information on the film.

That’s a big step for mass-market advertisement. We all are better off–viewers, advertisers–with unobtrusive adverts that provide useful information, and Apple should be commended for it.

There is only so much you can do with mass-market advertisement, though. These are, fundamentally, still advertisements–that is, something asking for our attention that we really aren’t that interested in. Advertising can do better than this.

I use Fusion Ads on TightWind because I trust Chris Bowler and Michael Mistretta. I know them, I know what motivates and interests them, and so I also know that if they allow someone to advertise on their network, there is a good chance whatever that person is doing will excite me, and my readers. Fusion isn’t an ad network. They’re a recommendation network.

That’s completely different than what iAd does. At best, iAd will provide advertisements for things I’m not really that interested in, but do so in a respectful and useful way. Fusion, though, knows what excites me and my readers, because they get excited over the same things, and so they can tell me there’s someone doing something that I’m likely to be genuinely interested in.

Yes, they’re paid to do so, but that doesn’t really matter, because they have standards. Their entire business is dependent on choosing advertisers that are relevant to their readers. They could make a lot of money by accepting anyone and everyone who wants to advertise on the Fusion network, but it would only be a few months before their network members and readers complain or, worse, stop paying attention to the ads. Once they’ve lost the trust of their network and readers, they’re finished.

That is what is so special about Fusion and the Deck. They rely entirely on that trust–the trust that they are just as excited by these things as the reader is, and they only accept advertisers who meet that standard. That’s the difference between mass-market advertisement and recommendation networks: mass-market advertisement is agnostic to the advertiser. If someone provides enough money and meets minimal standards, they’re in. Recommendation networks, though, know exactly who they are advertising to, because really their audience are people just like themselves, and they are exceedingly picky about who they let in.

That’s what advertising should be. Advertising as recommendations is an added service, rather than just an annoyance readers put up with. Fusion and the Deck add to the sites they’re on, because the ads are convincing. They are unobtrusive ads for things readers are actually interested in. That’s emotional.

And that’s also why iAd, as much as it is a step forward for mass-market advertisements, ultimately will not fully achieve the emotion Apple wants it to. The platform, even if it has high quality standards and seeks to make ads useful, will still accept almost anyone who wants to be on it. iAd is just that–ads. Fusion and the Deck are a service to readers in the guise of adverts.