Hello there! I’m Deborah, a summer business intern here at Labs, working on the team’s Washington Post Social Reader app. One area I’m exploring during my internship is how advertising is evolving online and on mobile devices. I’ve been passionate about advertising since my time at Google (where I was known to share cool online ads with my co-workers), and I’m interested in taking a fresh look at major trends in brand advertising over the next several months.
I believe that online and mobile advertising is constantly improving, which is an exciting trend for users, advertisers, and publishers. Below is a quick guide to recent changes in digital advertising, which reflects the leaps and bounds by which the field is evolving:
1. More Relevant Ads
Traditionally, advertisers bought display ads for a particular website and hoped that they would reach the right customer visiting that website. With new technologies like real-time bidding and ad exchanges, advertisers can now buy display ads based on a user’s behavior and reach that specific user across dozens of websites.
For users, ads have become much more relevant. I’ve started to see ads that are tailored to my specific interests, such as ads for shoes I put into a shopping cart but didn’t purchase, or ads based on my frequent visits to technology websites. For advertisers, ads are becoming much more effective, because they’re reaching the right customers and paying only for the impressions they want.
Real-time bidding is growing quickly. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), nearly one-third of online ads will be bought through this method by 2015. Facebook’s announcement that it will allow real-time bidding for some ads on the site will also accelerate this trend.
2. More Storytelling Within Ads
The best ads tell a story that draws a consumer in and makes him feel a connection to a brand. Visually-arresting ad units (think Angelina Jolie floating down a river in Cambodia in full-page Louis Vuitton ads) are increasingly popular online and in mobile apps; Google reported that large ad units with rich creative potential are some of the fastest growing on the Web. Apps such as popular iOS music app Band of the Day are now featuring full-screen ads from brands like Burberry with beautiful and glossy magazine-style imagery.
Also popular are brands that are experimenting with storytelling through branded content — articles or videos from an advertiser, which match the look and feel of a website and sit alongside editorial and user-generated content. For example, Bacardi created a set of playlists on Spotify for different party themes (e.g. barbeque, luau). The playlists blend seamlessly into Spotify’s app, and are useful content for users as well as an effective way to drive brand awareness for advertisers.
3. More Engaging Ad Units
Advertisers aren’t just telling stories within ads; they’re also asking users for their opinion and enticing interaction. I’ve seen an upswing in engaging content within ads (ads that include quizzes, polls, and click-to-play video). These ads invite users to engage in a two-way dialogue with a brand, and sometimes even reward users with game points or free articles. For example, MasterCard ran a campaign in Zynga’s Cityville game in which users could earn game rewards by completing a survey for MasterCard. These ads — dubbed “engagement ads” because they invite user interaction — are a way for advertisers to start a conversation with their customers and continue that conversation across the Web.
My personal hope is that ads online and on mobile will become as memorable as the great ads we can recall from TV and print. We’re getting there, and it’s encouraging to see relevant, creative, engaging ads replace the standard static banner ad as the predominant format online. Who knows what will come next?