Apple’s Display Ads: Cooler? Yes. Better? No.

New Ad Spaces from Clay Parker Jones on Vimeo.

I saw these ads yesterday on Slate and ESPN.

I noticed some things that are worth noting.

  • These look to be executed by PointRoll, who likely helped Apple’s web peeps make the ads mess with the stuff in the browser.
  • Note that the dropdown menus that are being “manipulated” by the ad are still available when the ad is running. There’s a slight delay, but at least the ads don’t absolutely prevent you from using the site as you usually do.
  • After the first run of the iPod Touch ad, I made an attempt to go check out the landing page. No dice. Not sure what happened there, but I hope for everyone’s job security that this was isolated to my computer.
  • The banners are somewhere around 200ish pixels high and 900ish pixels wide. That’s somewhere between 180,000 and 225,000 pixels of creative breathing room.

You might expect that I have some thoughts on these. Here they are.

  • Just like most things Apple touches lately, these are exceptionally executed. The production quality is stellar, and while my burdened MacBook had a few troubles recording the video and playing the Flash movie at the same time, they ran quite quickly after the page loaded. And if you don’t turn the sound on, they still work just fine from a marketing perspective.
  • They’re full of fun things to look at. I don’t need to note them all for you, but I particularly like the extensions outside the banner in the ad for the 17″ MacBook Pro. They’re modest, and they’re clever.
  • Apple seems to be leading all of us when it comes to creating display ads that actually engage. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of the engagement is due to the fact that I know it’s Apple, and since I love Apple, I want to see whatever they’ve done.
  • Unfortunately, I don’t think many other brands can claim that advantage. If you look at most of the other examples of this (for instance, the Ford F-150 takeover when the new launched), they’re roundly hated by people who like the internet.
  • Apparently there’s a movement afoot to standardize this ad size across the internet. I’m more than a little concerned that publishers are reacting to the economic downturn by selling every available pixel onscreen, at the cost of making the content ever harder to get at.
  • It’s definitely cool to play with the navigation elements–seems like magic to most users–but as with the Yahoo! iPod ad below, I don’t think it works. I’m not going to to be entertained by Apple’s web wizardry, I’m going there to get some sports info. If they’re going to keep this up, I’ll start going elsewhere. And when people start going where the ads aren’t, everyone’s revenue suffers.

Compare the above with the below, please.

Again, while this is absolutely a nifty trick, if I’m going to Yahoo! Games, I’m there to engage with a game, rather than sit back and watch something cool onscreen. The ad for the Wario Land – Shake It on YouTube makes a lot more sense to me, mostly because it’s in the perfect context: when people are cruising YouTube, they’re looking to be passively entertained. For me, Nintendo has used the medium appropriately, whereas the Apple stuff feels like old-world philosophies applied to a new space. Certainly, the larger stage affords Apple the opportunity to be much more engaging, but it’s still just interruptive advertising, shouting into a crowded room.

Cooler? Yes.

Better? No.


8 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Eric,

    I think these ads are great. What sucks is when the pages are unusable (which is NOT the case with ESPN as you point out) but many of these “new and innovative” spots simply break pages.

    Also activation with a rollover is simply annoying. I want to click to see something happen. The problem with the rollover is that it gives attribution for a “play” even when it was an accident.

  2. Yeah, agree with all your points.

    The ads are definitely awesome, but there are a lot of issues that I wouldn’t accommodate if it were a different brand, product or design. And I’m concerned that the site admins/marketing people/interaction designers are creating a format that’s more friendly to brands than it is to site visitors.

  3. Zulema,

    The navigation elements are part of the entire flash banner and aren’t separately being affected by the banner. At least that was the case in the Yahoo versions. ;) I remember checking them.

    I find these banners intrusive personally. The only ones I did find enjoyable were the Mac vs PC banners that ran on NY Times:

    The banners were out of the way but still engaging and funny. :D

  4. Z:

    I remember testing the Yahoo! banners, too, and was disappointed by their lack of respect for the menus. Good call. Forgot about that.

    And yeah, the NYT banners are great. I think I referred to them in a recent post…they are a clear example of how great creative and smart media use can make banners “good.”

  5. I am not going to comment about usability and testing and the like, but my little media perspective tells me this:

    I disagree with the word “unfortunately” in your third point under “some thoughts.” Apple has spent millions carefully crafting pretty brilliant campaigns to get you to the point where you would want to interact with something otherwise considered annoying, because you love their brand so much and have come to expect something cool. I would say that is not at all unfortunate; I’d say that’s an awesome testament to what strong positive brand equity can bring to the table. Objective = accomplished. Gold star for Apple.

    I think the comments on YouTube being an entertainment channel (hence user X accepts the bonus entertainment) and Y! gaming having other purposes (hence the cool execution becomes an irritating interruption) is a really smart insight. This calls into question the idea of media planning for mindset – some would say that it is really smart to be putting a gaming interstitial into gaming content – you know that person is there because he/she is interested in what’s what in gaming. Does the mindset override the irritation factor? Not sure.

    I like this conversation. Awesome media and awesome execution need to think together more often.

  6. I definitely agree with Zulema about the Mac V. PC NYT ads, but want to add what I liked most was they had a play button. I could “choose” to watch it.

    That’s very different than when I don’t. When I don’t have a choice over an ad breaking space or even adding unexpected sound, I shift + refresh so the ad goes away. The fact of the matter is that a lot of ads that break space do so in a very annoying and invasive manner.

    It’s like what you say lastly, if I’m going to site to specifically retrieve information, I’m going to start avoiding that site if ads affect that experience.

  7. Don,

    A similar thing was done for the Wii last year (I think) on YouTube.

    The novelty of this has completely worn off for me personally after seeing it done a few times.

    As mentioned in a previous comment, the Flash is actually usef for all of the parts of the page that’re being manipulated, it’s just done that way to make it feel like Flash is “breaking out of the box”.

  8. Virgil,

    Great entry Clay! Apple’s marketing approach greatly benefits from the loyal customer base. What they do (as a brand) once they’ve captivated the people is what separates them. By continuing to execute and raise the bar on production and creativity (as you mentioned), they have perpetuated their impressive 2K era campaigning. With Crispin Porter + Bogusky making Microsoft more viable in a creative sense, I would have to consider the ads a success.

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