We’re used to buzz around Apple, and in particular, we’re quite used to buzz about how Apple goes to market. CEO Steve Jobs is widely considered the greatest marketer alive, and nearly every marketer I’ve worked with has expressed sincere admiration for the magic the man is capable of weaving. His products are brilliant, and the cult around Jobs and his work are extraordinary.
But with iAds, Apple has moved from the business of making ads to the business of selling them. And in the past month or so, Apple’s new team – folks formerly known as Quattro Wireless but now sporting brand new Apple business cards – have started making sales calls at a handful of major brands and their agencies.
These freshly minted Apple folk must feel like the won the lottery – just a few months ago, they were duking it out with ten other mobile networks, competing on price, ROI, network quality and scale, ad format, and Lord knows how many other factors. Now marketers are literally lining up to buy into the launch of Steve Jobs’ next great thing.
And that next great thing is called iAds – which Jobs, in typical fashion, introduced last month as the answer to all those mobile ads that “suck.”
I guess he means what those folks from Quattro sold (and still do, by the way, under their original brand name). Because from what I can tell, there’s almost nothing new in iAd, save the wrapping paper.
Then again, wrapping paper is what takes an ordinary object and turns it into a gift, and therein lies the genius of Jobs.
You won’t find anything about iAds on Apple’s site (there are a few for “iAd,” but if you’re trying to understand what they are, you’ll be disappointed). Instead, details about the program are leaking out through blogosphere speculation and reports of recent sales meetings. I’ve spoken to several folks who’ve been in those meetings, and this post, the first of a series, will be my best attempt at making sense of the iAd narrative.
And it’s quite a classic tale – one most of the press is eating up. Early reports echo Jobs’ points about how iAds are different, but fail to check whether, in fact, iAds do anything particularly new.
Apple’s press release reads: “iAd, Apple’s new mobile advertising platform, combines the emotion of TV ads with the interactivity of web ads. Today, when users click on mobile ads they are almost always taken out of their app to a web browser, which loads the advertiser’s webpage. Users must then navigate back to their app, and it is often difficult or impossible to return to exactly where they left. iAd solves this problem by displaying full-screen video and interactive ad content without ever leaving the app, and letting users return to their app anytime they choose.”
Jobs elaborated at launch, claiming that iAds would bring more “emotion” and “engagement” to what was before a noisy and crap filled environment.
Well, yes and no. Yes, in that iAds are *only* rich media experiences (once you click on a standard banner, of course). And yes, in that Apple is controlling all the creative for iAds (clients will have approvals and submit materials, but Apple alone is doing the actual development – to ensure quality control – and most likely, to maintain the mystery of iAds in general. Classic Jobs).
And yes, in that at launch, only a selected few marketers will be “allowed” to run iAds. And as has been widely reported, those brands have to pay quite a price to get into the launch portion of the program. Given the steep price tag (reportedly up to $20 million, and I’ll be getting to that in a follow up piece), it’s almost a certainty that the ads will be of high quality – only the most established brand marketers are going to play at this level.
So yes, the actual ads inside an iAd will be better, in general, than an “average” mobile ad experience. But then again, a Superbowl ad is generally better than an “average” television ad, ain’t it?
So…. no, there’s nothing new here. Anything you can do with an iAd, I’ve confirmed with numerous very knowledgeable sources, you can do with AdMob or any number of other networks.
While it’s true that a lot of mobile ads link to web sites, rather than to rich media experiences that keep the user inside an app, it’s also true that AdMob, among others, has been using what’s known as a webview (using the video friendly HTML5 standard) to deliver exactly what Jobs packaged as “new” since at least last Fall. And let’s not forget, Jobs failed to buy AdMob, which was his first choice – Google won that bidding war.
And given that AdMob has 70% reach into the iPhone/Touch/Pad world (according to the company), Apple isn’t really selling anything new with iAds. In the words of one agency source who recently sat in an Apple pitch meeting: “iAds are the same thing you could get before, wrapped in a nice box with a bow on it.”
Ahh…there it is: The gift. Steve Jobs’ brilliance lies in his ability to make everything seem magical. The true gift Apple is selling right now? A Golden Ticket into Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. A chance to be associated with the greatest marketer in the history of the industry.
Think I’m kidding? Then consider this: Apple is telling marketers willing to pony up for the launch that Steve Jobs will mention their brand on stage as he launches iAds this summer. “That is worth a hell of a lot,” one agency chief told me.
That, my friends, is the bow on the box. The box itself? That’s Apple products – the environment in which the advertisers’ message will be seen. And marketers like nothing more than to be associated with quality environments.
In fact, during presentations to prospective clients, Apple’s sales force takes out an iPhone to demonstrate what iAds look like. And here’s the kicker: They unveil the phone with a flourish and utter these magic words: “This is actually Steve Jobs’ personal iPhone.”
They may as well be showing Willy Wonka’s cane to a room full of children.
What Apple is selling with iAds is – Apple itself. As well they should. But they are also selling into a marketplace that, for the most part, doesn’t really understand mobile marketing. The market is still relatively small – well under a billion dollars globally this year – and major marketers have yet to embrace the format. They don’t realize that most of what Apple is pitching them can be done already.
And in the end, it doesn’t really matter. By isolating the rich media execution and claiming it as his own, Jobs has once again identified a marketing opportunity and redefined it as unique. In the process, he’s driving innovation and awareness in the mobile market. Nothing wrong with that.
But if I were a marketer considering laying out $1mm, $10mm, or more on iAds, I’d make sure I understood what my goals are.
In my next iAd-related post I’ll be focusing on just that topic: deconstructing the ROI on an iAd. Because once the launch is over, it’s all about value for money spent. And there are a lot of unanswered questions here – including publisher inventory and terms, blind vs. directed networks, targeting and terms of service for use of iTunes data, issues of third party networks, FTC regulation, and other policies, and much more. Stay tuned.
Update – I should have mentioned that there are at least two unique properties to an iAd that you can’t get elsewhere – the targeting, which reportedly is based on what apps a particular user has downloaded from iTunes, and the “ViP” program, which is, in short, the ability to link directly to your app in the iTunes store. Of course, anyone can link to the iTunes store from an ad, the difference here is this is a “proprietary Apple approved link.” Not sure what that means, but it should become clearer when the program is live in the wild.