Through much of advertising’s history, the nature of ads has been interruptive. Whatever we are consuming, ads are designed to distract us from it, to veer us away from what we’re supposed to be focusing on.
This format worked for a long time, especially when the medium through which we consumed most media was limited by a once crucial element: space, There were only so many pages in a magazine, so if 15 of them were ads, they were sure to command attention individually. This was a valuable proposition to advertisers, which meant they were willing to pay for it.
But with the advent of the internet, that limitation vanished. All of a sudden, there was an infinite amount of space in which content could be published. With so little scarcity, the value of ads went down. The discrepancy between what ad space costs now and what it cost two decades ago is one of the biggest reasons behind the struggling publishing industry.
But as time has gone on from the early internet, the medium has shifted again. Now, it’s not so much about consuming vast reams of content but creating it ourselves via social media channels like Snapchat and Instagram. Now that our relationship with content is so much more active, advertising has shifted as well. First we saw ads appearing in our feeds based on our past searches or what our habits indicate we might like to see. We’re now seeing companies integrate ads into content creation itself.
One primary example of this is “sponsored content”, or “advertorial”. This is where a company or brand pays for a piece of editorial content to be written that might actually be interesting to a reader who isn’t (yet) a potential customer. The idea is to more or less “trick” the reader into consuming what they think is a news item, when in reality it is actually an ad. Because it may not explicitly serve the brand’s needs or convey its message, it is designed to provide value to the reader regardless of whether or not they realize they are viewing an ad.
A more recent form of this immersive advertising is filters. Snapchat rolled this out first, allowing companies to make custom “lenses” around calendar events. A very successful example of this was when fast food chain Taco Bell released a giant taco lens around the American holiday Cinco De Mayo. According to Ad Week, the lens not only resulted in 224 million views in one day, but “the average user played with Taco Bell’s ad for 24 seconds before sending it as a “snap.” In terms of unique plays—or the number of times individual people interacted with the ad—the campaign generated 12.5 years’ worth of play in a day, according to Snapchat.”
This kind of immersive “play” is incredibly valuable to advertisers, as it is far more engaging than simply scrolling past an ad in a feed or turning a page in a magazine. It’s not surprising then that other networks have recently gotten in on the act, with Twitter rolling out its new branded stickers just a month after announcing the stickers function itself.
The company stated on their blog that “#Stickers act as a visual hashtag, meaning that photos with your brand’s sticker will be connected and discoverable to anyone who taps your brand’s sticker. This allows a brand to see and engage with the people who are using their stickers in creative ways.”
Again, this is an example of a platform giving advertisers a way to not just hawk their product or service, but invite people to actively engage with it while creating their own content.
While the future of advertising is always in flux, the arrival of immersive ads makes it clear that the ad experience can’t go back to being static or passive; the future of advertising is active.