Reimagining the Mobile Banner: In-App Ad Innovation Spares Brands from Google’s Interstitial Pinch

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For those in mobile creative still designing full-screen interstitials, you’ve got until January 10 to get a different plan together. That’s the date Google starts penalizing search results for sites that haven’t moved on from the takeover approach.

I wholly agree with the Google interstitials penalty structure. The majority of us in mobile creative already know that we can’t continue to rely on ad units that disrupt user experiences and overpower the underlying content. It’s not just about search results for mobile web, either; it’s about user response. Case in point, MediaBrix’s most recent study tells us that mobile consumers are twice as likely to react negatively to full-screen takeovers (video, in this instance) as they are to embedded, opt-in mobile creative that actually rewards attention by doing something cool.

Since the future of our work is about designing smarter ways to reach users, what we need to focus on are ways to drive engagement, not distraction. And that means finding subtle things — whether we’re building for apps or the mobile-web — that trigger the meaningful interactions. Bottom line, this isn’t 1999; we’re not building banners for that last century’s desktop.

So, as January 10 approaches, let’s look at some creative models from the app side of the table — that’s where I’m coming from (obviously). Each of the ideas that follow represent fresh approaches to the mobile screen, concepts that mobile-web can put to use, steering clear of Google’s search penalties while making better user experiences overall.

We Don’t Need Interstitials, We Need to Reward User Attention
What’s the last banner ad you remember?

I ask that question of mobile marketers all the time, and 9 out of 10 can’t give me a single example. And if there’s one that can, it’s an example of a banner related to their own work (and, so sorry… disqualified).

One of the reasons we don’t remember banner ads is that mobile’s static 320-by-50s fuel banner blindness. Think about it: the whole point of the interstitial is that it’s hard to be blind to something that blocks out everything else. But, if mobile web has to work with smaller amounts of real estate under the new Google rules, then the following examples show ways that in-app creative is already generating ad models that avoid both banner blindness and the search penalties coming into play.

  • For our first example, think about the basic 320-by-50 mobile Now animate it. As the user scrolls vertically through the content on the screen, this on-scroll model pans horizontally. Imagine a car is the active element. It rolls left-to-right across a city street in the banner when the user scrolls down through the content, and then it reverses if they scroll back up. This only happens when the user scrolls; the ad is static the rest of the time. Dynamic within a constrained space, on-scroll uses real estate in an intelligent way, rewarding attention without overtaking the content around it.
  • Second example. Starting with a 320-by-50 unit, as users scroll up or down the animated banner pans horizontally, but now all or part of this canopy on-scroll unit protrudes up into the 50 pixels of vertical above it. A plane lifts off. The moon climbs into view. As we expand our concept of the dynamic banner to this 320-by-100 model, we’re still creating a penalty-safe size but we’re adding the potential to create even more dramatic effects that reward attention (and, again, these animations only happen when the screen is scrolling, never when the user is concentrating on the content they want to see).
  • A third model takes these ideas even further. Let’s introduce a fall landscape in the banner. Now, an autumn leaf twirls and drifts from a tree, gently moving across the whole Traditionally, when mobile creative generates an object that moves across content in this way, developers had to take up all the user’s real estate with a transparent layer that doesn’t allow the consumer to interact with the material underneath. The good news is, in-app mobile creative — and some of the most forward-thinking developers for mobile web as well — have figured out how to address this takeover-layer problem. We can still have a transparent layer, but we can now allow the consumer to engage with what’s behind it. If there’s an object that’s supposed to be tappable — the bouncing ball, a rising moon, a plane in flight — we can reward users for opting to interact without denying them access to the underlying content.

Creative Lessons: In-App and Mobile-Web Creative Evolve
Over here, in the app world, we have some latitude; we’re obviously not going to get dinged by Google because we’re not mobile web. But even so, from a design and user-experience point of view, it’s first and foremost the case that unless we really have a good reason to get into the greater part of the user’s space, we don’t go there lightly.

In keeping with this approach, in each of the above examples, the spirit and letter of Google’s interstitials constraints are in place, but these ad-unit concepts reward attention, attracting without disrupting. And, they’ll keeping mobile-web creative search-engine penalty free under Google’s upcoming rules.

verve_geerheadshotWalter T. Geer III is Vice President, Creative Director at Verve in New York City.