Hark, the responsive ad, a profound failure of imagination
There’s been lots of talk about responsive design for websites. If you’re not following the discussion, here’s the gist of the argument for responsive design: publishers should offer readers the same digital content everywhere, just repackaged and reformatted for different devices.
Google is pushing responsive design hard, arguing that ‘optimized’ sites will serve readers better by offering a uniform content experience. (Cynically, one might argue that Google has a strong interest in pushing publishers to push the same content out across multiple devices in various formats so the task of processing and presenting this information is simpler for Google if it’s not different across multiple devices.) The responsive design approach is cheaper for everyone too, since it means publishers don’t have to rethink their content strategies for each new device, just the formatting.
Now advertisers are beginning to explore ways to make their ads responsive. Build one ad, then tweak it automatically so it can run on a half-dozen form factors — desktop, iPad, mini, iPhone, XX and other tablets. You can see an example of one such solution here:
The idea of responsive ads seems silly to me. Imagine trying to build an ad that would “resize” automatically to run on TV, radio, glossy magazines and newspapers. In theory, this might be possible. But this strategy would result in least-common-denominator content, probably just chunks of black and white text. Though even this dumbed down ad wouldn’t work on radio, so maybe a transmitter could be constructed that would turn “responsively” this text into morse code.
Trying to resize both editorial and advertising reflects a giant failure of imagination. Just as the best web sites live and breath in the many dimensions that were unimaginable in the monochrome and two dimensional world of newsprint publishing, the best tablet and mobile sites someday will embody dimensions and colors and experiential textures that aren’t imagined in today’s world of desktop publishing and reading.
By definition, the best ads won’t be responsive; the best content and ads will be unfungible across devices because they’ll embody features that are unique to each tier of device. With this philosophy in mind, Blogads teams are busy working on new ad units that will be uniquely effective on tablets, rather than just resizing versions of desktop ad units. Watch this ever-mutating space to see what we come up with.