November 27th, 2009 No Comments

Ads gone wild – bad, good and not quite Taylor Swift

Newspapers and magazines are struggling to keep customers spending money on their paper products while both readers and advertisers are quickly turning to online news, commentary and fiction. So it’s interesting to watch publishers adapt to this new world, testing technologies to draw in readers and trying to keep their ad revenue flowing.

Three magazines and their online advertising caught our attention over the past couple of days. One site (Forbes) we may never visit again because their advertising is so obnoxious. Another site (Esquire) has an ambitious online/offline integration that works well and is fun to play with. The third (InStyle) also tried to integrate online features, but it was a total bust – we couldn’t make it work at all, which probably doesn’t make Taylor Swift very happy since she’s the 3-D cover girl.

Bad – Forbes

Bad ads on Forbes I

Never, ever design pages like this

Forbes has solid editorial content and a rich history, but the desperation apparent in their online advertising is ridiculous. They seem determined to cover every inch of the online page with ads. For some time now their site has been loaded down with multiple animated ads on each page. This is really distracting when trying to read the story. To make things worse, some of those ads have sound that begins playing automatically. This can be shocking if you left the volume turned up while rocking out the night before, or it interrupts your current soundtrack or the quiet of your office.

Bad ads on Forbes II

Who approved this?

Here are two examples of really bad online advertising on the Forbes Web site today. The first one shows how a page opened up when I first clicked on the headline for this story. A gigantic ad took up most of the screen and more ads below and to the side left only a tiny space for the actual article I was trying to read.

The second example, also courtesy of Forbes, is the “home” page of their Internet technology section. The page was bad enough with three big, animated ads, including one with automatic-on audio. But then the “Your Opinion MATTERS” ad floated in to cover the only actual content on the page. This is not reader-friendly page design and I’m sure the art director of the print magazine would never approve these layouts, so why do they let their Web kids run wild?

Readers are fighting back with technology like Adblock Plus, a plugin for the Firefox Web browser. But, knowing that my eyes and ears will be assaulted by these noisy, distracting ads when I just want to read a business magazine will make my finger think twice before clicking a Forbes link.

Good – Esquire

Pick up the December issue of Esquire magazine and you’ll see Robert Downey Jr. on the cover sitting on a strange looking, square box. The box is actually a type of bar code that you can hold up to the camera on your computer to launch some animated ads (Esquire calls this “Augmented Reality”). Check out the video below to get a quick idea for how this looks. The 3-D visuals are really interesting when you’re moving the magazine around.

This is an ambitious experiment and mostly it works very well – on Windows anyway, we had trouble on a Mac where the application would freeze. The only problem with their execution was the large application that has to be downloaded and installed. At 90 MB it probably contains all of the video, which makes the local presentation better, but would definitely put off a lot of people. Next time they should use a smaller installed component and leave more content on the Web.

Not quite – InStyle

This monthly fashion magazine also attempted a clever online counterpart, but it must have been too ambitious for their programmers. Like the Esquire project, you have to visit the magazine’s Web site and download some software that is supposed to watch the image on your camera and react by playing the appropriate audio and video. We never got that far – their Web site had some java code errors so it wouldn’t even let us download/install the special application. We tried hard with three browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome) on two computers, but the 3-D Taylor Swift was not happening for us. I hope they can get their money back or, better yet, try again with the next issue, I really wanted to see it work.

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