January 4, 2011

In a triumph of synergy, the release of the new iAd platform coincided with the release of the shiny new Disney Tron: Legacy movie. The Tron: Legacy iAds were among the first to show up on iPads, and both the movie and the platform are markedly better than their original incarnations. Like the updated movie, Tron iAd advertising is more visually stunning, more of a complete sensory experience.

The ad functions as an embedded app that features images, video, the ability to find area specific showtimes as well as a way to download the Daft Punk score on iTunes. It also includes sharing functions, meaning the ad is so media rich, so cool, that you as a user will presumably want to pass it around to your friends to show it off.

The app-like format of the advertising is an intuitive response to consumer behavior on mobile platforms - where some believe, including Apple CEO Steve Jobs, content discovery happens through apps as opposed to through search. Jobs points out, "On the desktop, search is where it's at. That's where the money is. But on a mobile device, search hasn't happened. Search is not where it's at; people aren't searching on a mobile device like they do on a desktop. What's happening is they're spending all of their time in apps." It is a testament to Apple's vertical integration strategy that the iAds themselves mimic the format of the mobile programs the company offers.

I've been skeptical in the past of Apple's insistence on tightly controlling the content of ads that appear on its system but the Tron Legacy iAd exemplifies the benefits of this control. As Dave Kaplan explains "iAds is perfect for something like Tron, as opposed to a packaged goods product. iAds is meant to be an event, something special, at least for now." Strict controls insure that the ads will work with the platform, each complementing the other and working to sell a device specific experience.

Until marketers and users round the learning curve presented by tablet technology, Apple's iAd system is a brilliant approach to guiding them through it. It is a wise move aimed at protecting and crafting user experience on iPad. But with Google and its massive market share and similar tablet advertising platform challenging Apple, it's fair to say that these controls can't and won't last forever.