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Is the iAd platform right for your brand?

Is the iAd platform right for your brand? Brett Barash

In June 2010, Apple introduced advertisers to a new mobile-rich media platform, the iAd. iAds were intended to enhance the mobile advertising experience on Apple devices. Since then, there has been news that several advertisers are not exactly thrilled with the development process. In fact, some reports even have advertisers pulling out of their contracts.

All of this news combined with the timing and expense of building an iAd makes it very important to understand the platform. Is it worth it for your brand?

Before we discuss the evaluation of iAds for your brand, let's take a look at how they work. The iAd looks like a small banner ad within an app. They are not served through a browser, only in apps on the iPhone and iPod Touch. They are not yet available on the iPad, but Apple has promised advertisers that they will be sometime in 2011.

Consumers will know they are iAds because they have the logo in the bottom right corner of every iAd that is served. Apple hopes that over time, users will understand what that means.

Below is an example of an AT&T U-verse iAd in The Weather Channel app.Notice the size and specs of the ad, as well as the iAd icon in the bottom right part of the banner:

So where do users see iAds? Well, app developers have the option of whether or not to serve them. By doing so, they take 60 percent of the revenue from Apple. For a small app developer that could add up to a significant amount. For larger publishers, such as The Weather Channel, there's a balance between serving iAds and serving ads from other mobile ad networks. By optimizing multiple opportunities, app developers and publishers can maximize profits. The number of apps that allow iAds to be served is growing month by month. It's an easy process for developers who simply have to check a box in their updated app for iOS 4.

Once an iAd is "tapped" open, the ad opens to a full-screen experience. Because they are built in HTML5, users can watch videos, interact with the ad, and even download apps directly within the iAd. A close button, which looks like an "x," is persistent in the top left corner of every iAd. By tapping this, the iAd will close, and users will go directly back to where they were in the app. This is a benefit for consumers, as the app they were in is always left open. If they were able to click out to another mobile website, the app would close and users would be forced to re-open the app.

Let's put that into perspective. Imagine you're reading an article in a news app. A message appears in the form of an iAd banner, and you're interested in learning more about it. You tap the iAd and it opens into a full-screen experience. Once you're finished and ready to go back to reading the news app, you simply close the iAd. If you were able to "click out" to another site, the app would close, forcing you to re-open it and search for the article you were reading.

Now that we understand how the iAd platform works from a consumer perspective, it's important to understand if it's right for your brand.

As an advertiser, you should ask these five questions before making that decision:

Is my target audience using Apple iOS?

The reach is fairly limited. iAds are only available through iPhones and the iPod Touch. Apple claims that there are approximately 40 million devices that support iAds. With iPhone sales still increasing, that number is continuously growing. In addition, you have to understand if your target audience uses apps. iAds are only served within apps. They are not served on a website within a mobile browser. So, you need to balance the size of the audience with the buzz and newness that garners more engagement.

Am I willing to spend a significant amount of money for richer interactive mobile experiences?

iAds do provide an incredibly rich mobile experience, leveraging not only sight, sound, and motion, but also features such as:

  • Multi-touch navigation

  • Location-based intelligence

  • Accelerometer (shake)

The only mobile phones that support Flash today are certain Android devices. However, this new version of Flash has very limited reach. The iAd allows for the development of interactive, rich media in HTML5. But it's important to ask, do I have a story to tell or am I driving to purchase? To take advantage of this expensive medium, you need more than a direct response ad. The iAd platform is one of the first that allows for more brand engagement, rather than a quick promotion or call-to-action. It's also important to consider both media costs and creative costs for the development of an iAd. Sometimes creative hours can grow due to multiple reviews with Apple and clients.

Timing of the development is another consideration. From briefing to going live, you can estimate approximately eight weeks. Of course this varies depending upon the complexity of the development. Most clients are not yet familiar with this medium, so you can expect reviews to take longer than usual. Since this is a fairly expensive media buy, they are also higher profile than a typical digital or mobile ad, so higher level executives will surely want to weigh in on the creative, meaning even longer approval times.

Is mobile advertising a part of my media strategy?

How much mobile advertising has your brand done in the past? And has it typically been direct response? There are opportunities to create rich mobile experiences within iAds, but there are less expensive alternatives if mobile is only a small part of your existing media strategy.

Brands with iAds currently live include AT&T, Citi, Nissan, Dove, JC Penney, and Klondike.

The majority of mobile ads in the past have been direct response or quick messages. iAds are most definitely not used for that. They give advertisers the opportunity to tell stories, create significant engagement, and get users to spend more quality time with your brand and message. The difference between typical mobile ads and iAds is similar to the difference between a standard banner and rich media banner.

Am I willing to give up some creative control to Apple?

Supposedly Steve Jobs reviews and approves all iAds. Apple does have an experienced creative and user interface team that can help drive good mobile experiences that perform well. However, sometimes agencies and clients lose some creative control. In addition, the code is owned by Apple and not transferable to other mediums.

Typically, mobile ads have been seen as more direct response over engagement. However, Apple has made advertisers and brands consider more than a quick message or click, much like rich media banner ads did almost a decade ago. In order for iAds to make an impression (no pun intended), Apple wants to ensure they have strong creative, getting consumers to want to interact with them.

Am I OK with limited data?

iAds do have targeting capabilities, but proving success can be difficult. Although iAds can be targeted by demographics, location, and app preferences, Apple does not let advertisers know specifically where their iAd is being served. In addition, there are no benchmark stats since this is a new medium.

Apple doesn't currently allow third-party analysis to measure brand recall. So reporting from companies like Dynamic Logic and Nielsen IAG are not possible. It's important to understand the risk of spending a lot of money for potentially limited success metrics.

The analytics that are provided by Apple are similar to that of website analytics. Advertisers can see open rates, interaction times,and user flows. This can help optimize creative within the ad. Statistics such as message recall, brand recall, and purchase intent are not yet available. 


iAds are not for every brand. Most brands that have purchased iAd media are willing to spend a significant amount of money by taking a chance. Limited reach, expensive CPMs, and difficulty of proving success make this a challenging media opportunity for smaller brands. Retail brands are going to have a difficult time proving success, as everything has to happen within the ad. There is no drive to purchase. If the majority of your current media spend is search and direct response, the iAd is probably not right for you. However, the opportunity to be first to market in this rich mobile platform can make for a significant impact.

Brett Barash is vice president, account director, BBDO.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Brett leads the AT&T digital advertising. He is involved early in the planning phase to ensure that campaigns and messages are fully integrated between offline and online. In addition, Brett works with the BBDO digital strategy team to uncover...

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