A year ago, Steve Jobs took the stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to declare mobile ads “suck” and introduce iAds to change that. And the first series of ads, including banners from Citibank, Nissan and Disney, appeared to deliver on that promise.
In the meantime, however, the quality of iAds has dropped precipitously. This is for a simple reason: In order for iAds to get a shot at being a scaled ad platform, Apple has needed to template most ads. This puts a crimp on creativity by forcing digital shops to basically color between the lines. Nowadays, if you’ve seen one iAd, you pretty saw them all. Apple operates the gated community, with iAds stamped out like so many variations of the same house.
The reason this happed is the December 2010 introduction of iAd Producer, a tool that makes it easier to build an iAd by using template tools that Apple provides for you. The idea behind Producer is solid: give creatives an easy way to build feature rich ad without starting from scratch. Want a carousel in your iAd? Choose from the menu.
After spending $500,000 to $1 million on a campaign, it makes sense to cut corners on your creative. It also opens iAds up to many more agencies, particularly those that have never made a mobile ad previously.
The tradeoff to this cookie-cutter approach is losing the very magic iAds promised. Look no farther than the recently introduced iAd Gallery, designed to showcase the best and brightest of the iAd universe. But the 23 ads featured aren’t breakthrough executions like the original Citi iAd that gave users an interactive walk through a city. If Steve Jobs was talking about mobile ads not sucking, this is what he meant.
But now, one quick look through the iAd Gallery and you see the same features over and over again, especially carousel style menus. The first series of iAds didn’t have the iAd Producer to build off of. While there’s no doubt that the producer does allow you to code an ad from scratch, you can tell by looking through the ads in the iAd Gallery that the templates options seem to be the default that many choose.
Think on that for a second. The ads that launched the platform were experiences. The user interacted and engaged with the ad to learn more about a brand on whatever they chose to provide. Selecting any of the iAds in the gallery leaves you with what feels like a prettied up version of a brands mobile website. All content, no drive to engage. Does an audience really care how the AT&T app helped four people “find their way” enough that you’d watch through any of the four movies, let alone expand the banner? Tap to play video, even if that video is the fallen angel from the Axe iAd by Unilever throwing down her halo due to your manly scent, isn’t the highest form of engagement.

Steve Jobs aimed to reinvent mobile advertising; he ended up combining the worst of banner ads and microsites.

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