Digital Advertising: We need to talk about Tablets…

The world of tablet advertising is passing out of its infancy and, in some ways, is encountering a few troubling moments as its enters its teenage years.

To encourage discussion, Adnostic – A digital production agency, a division of Dennis Publishing – decided to convene a gathering of renowned industry figures to debate the evolution of the industry thus far, discuss what factors are holding back development and what initiatives might be sought between the various bodies involved to push the market forward.

For this inaugural session representatives from OMD, MGOMD, Carat, Haymarket and adnostic and Dennis Publishing took part.


  • Jess Evans, Carat
  • Zoe Bale, Carat
  • Tara Mendelsohn, OMD
  • Charlotte Taylor, OMD
  • Lewis Shaw, MGOMD
  • Mark Brennan, MGOMD
  • Arif Durrani, Mediaweek
  • Matt White, Adnostic
  • Jon Kitchen, Adnostic
  • Jerina Hardy, Dennis
  • Simon Best, Adnostic
  • Sarah Perks, Dennis

It should be pointed out that although other similar gatherings exist we wanted something that was a bit more antidotal, perhaps more conversational, and mercilessly free of PowerPoint.

It also helped that some particularly quaffable libations had been liberated from the cellar of Felix Dennis to lubricate proceedings.

The first session was entitled “What makes a great creative?” but as suspected the conversation went much wider so this occasion was really a starting point to gather agreement on what the main challenges in the industry are and how, collectively, media owners, buyers, planners and agencies might promote the evolution of the market.

State of the Market

Agreement seemed to be reached quickly that the overwhelming majority of ads were still facsimiles of their print cousins – not interactive. This was to the detriment of both the host apps and the user experience as a whole.

Ad UX vs App UX

“User Experience is King” – was one sentiment that is not being applied to in app ad creatives. Users are accustomed to a certain level of user experience – one that is a product of more than a decade of evolution in the interactive design world. Flat ads lower the bar which, in turn, lowers the user experience and expectation – both apps and clients lose out as a result.

Understanding the Roles and Relations Between Interested Parties.

Several conditions were discussed that all contribute to this situation. The relationships and communications between media owners, media agencies and creative agencies all need to be analysed to understand the real issues at play.

Media Agencies.

Campaigns are frequently split along Print / Digital lines – tablet advertising is often an afterthought of rather than being integrated into media plans from the beginning. In turn this can lead to digital agencies being brought in at the last minute , unable to affect overall direction or asset creation from their point of expertise.

What Makes a Great Tablet Creative:

  • UX is king! – keep users in control – do not kick them unwittingly out of app.
  • Open with animation to impress ‘more fun to be had!’
  • A good brief – Direct response or branding
  • Begin with solid responsive design principles
  • Don’t hide CTAs behind complex interactions
  • Intuitive navigation of multi paned content to encourage interaction
  • Innovation: careful use of accelerometer for example
  • Be careful with gesture control to not conflict with host app UI – eg swipe
  • Don’t use social media without reason


Publishers have various models for publishing content: weekly, daily, monthly or even on-going feed based approaches. The varying platforms used to publish content mean there is an uneven landscape in capabilities; from only accepting ads which have 2 orientations and a link to full HTML5 capable apps which allow location, accelerometer and advanced interactions and animations. Advertising is often an afterthought of app creation, with not enough emphasis on how to manage workflow long term or knowledge of what is possible within their apps.

Perhaps the biggest and most controversial approach is to refuse to accept creatives which would work just fine on their platform – instead forcing agencies to choose from limited interactivity to produce ads in house – surely warding off potential business in the process.

The reluctance of publishers to share numbers whether active users, downloads or pageviews also adds to the general malaise around recorded data, which brings us to everyone’s favorite topic…..


This, it was agreed early on in the session, is one key area of misinformation and a primary cause of a lack of investment in the medium.

Of chief concern is the lack of a standard metric for analysing the efficacy of tablet in-app advertising. Is it pageviews? Engagements? Direct traffic? Or dwell times?

A greater level of granularity continues to be possible, so it seems counterintuitive that some publications….. still refuse to accept 3rd party tracking of any kind. Data can be generated from a number of sources but the data from all sources needs to be freely given to gain true insight into how people interact with the creatives.

There was general consensus that ideally this means Publishers sharing pageviews and dwell times (via analytics built into the SDK) and agencies sharing custom event tracking via javascript is needed in order to build a whole picture.
Moving forward – Education and Collaboration

If we are to move the market forward it’s clear that a new era of collaboration and education needs to be ushered in. Key relations to be addressed:

Understanding good creative.

It’s key for digital agencies to educate media agencies, and clients as to the new possibilities opened via this new media. What makes a good creative? What is most effective and what are the differences between producing direct response and branding campaigns and the KPI which should be employed to measure relative success.


It should be a key responsibility for Publishers to allow Digital Agencies access to their platforms to establish current possibilities, and work with them to iteratively further the app/advertising experience for their users. We have first hand experience of the reward of these kinds of partnerships. It was agreed that Newspapers were largely responsible for the evolution of the apps and are more open to these collaborations than their magazine based brethren.

Bring clients into the fold.

A lack of understanding the possibilities can prevent further investment. Sessions arranged by media agencies to bring together clients, publishers and digital agencies are key to bridging this information gap.


There was no doubt that revolution was in the air by the time we wrapped up! – but there was a healthy dose of cynicism on tap to keep all firmly rooted to the ground.

All concerned knew, for example, that Publishers are notoriously difficult to bring round the same table and agree to share anything past a certain point. All agreed that the recent initiative from Newsworks was a great example of how these approaches can work however.

There was a lot of goodwill in the room – the feeling that gatherings like this will help promote and accelerate real change was pervasive – if we can demonstrate the mutual benefits of such a cohesive approach then this kind of collaboration can and should be achieved. Perhaps via these forums we can discuss the real data and steer the agendas forward together.

We’re looking forward to opening the sessions to more agencies and publishers as we continue to develop the discussion.

Join the debate on the LinkedIn: AdThink Group

by Matt White, Creative Director, Adnostic,

Follow me: @formvsfunction