Making Tiny Ads Work on the Apple Watch

Making Tiny Ads Work on the Apple Watch

By Shekhar Deo, Co-Founder of EngageClick

Marketing is a form of communication that we use to inform, inspire and persuade consumers. In other words, marketing is all about telling a good story.

Of course advertising makes up an integral piece of the larger marketing story. As our technologies have evolved, our advertising methods have been forced to change with the times. That’s why the release of the Apple Watch and other wearable devices is creating a serious new challenge for marketers – namely, how to squeeze compelling ads onto the tiny face of a smartwatch?

To address this question, it’s helpful to consider the changes in computing technologies over the decades and their effects on advertising. This history of what happened in the past can help guide what we do in the future.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the early days of computers required operators to work in special rooms to operate huge mainframe systems. Needless to say, such complex computers were not very effective in meeting the needs of marketers.

The personal computing era of the 1980s launched desktop computers and networking technologies that allowed marketers to communicate directly with consumers. This breakthrough was further enhanced by the arrival of the Internet and laptop computers in the 1990s, which enabled connectivity and mobility for both the senders and receivers of marketing communications.

Things heated up even more in the early 2000s, with the arrival of mobile smartphones that fit into one’s pocket. This smaller form factor was extremely convenient for users, yet it presented difficulties for marketers to get their messages across. It seems quaint now to think that not so long ago, marketers were worried that phones would be too small to support ads!

In recent years, tablet computers have introduced yet another screen size for marketers to optimize. And now we are entering the era of wearable devices. By 2020, some forecasters even predict widespread adoption of miniature connected devices that will overlap with human biology, such as through the eyes and ears with nanotech-sized machines. Think Google Glass on steroids.

Whether or not this prediction comes true, mobile ads will continue to claim an ever-larger share of spending for digital marketing. Consider that adults in the U.S. have nearly quadrupled their daily use of mobile devices over the past three years, from just 48 minutes per day in 2011 to 2 hours, 51 minutes in 2014, according to eMarketer.

This brief history demonstrates that marketers must continually shift their advertising strategies to reflect the changing communications patterns of consumers. That’s why mobile devices present such a great opportunity to connect with consumers, because unlike TV sets, people carry their smartphones with them wherever they go.

However, these changes also require marketers to engage with consumers whose attention spans are fragmented across PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets – and now wearable devices too. Marketers can no longer simply target campaigns for a particular media format or one specific device. Now each message has to be presented smartly across every type of device.

Ironically the Apple Watch is coming out at a time when people have less need for wristwatches, due to the ubiquity of smartphones. However, the Apple Watch is likely to alter this situation for consumers by augmenting communications from their mobile devices. And this is where those tiny ads come in.

Developers will use WatchKit, a new development platform for the Apple Watch, to build compelling new apps for everything from health to entertainment to messaging. As a result, ads that worked well for the smartphone format will now be too large for the Apple Watch.

However, the Apple Watch will allow consumers to check all their notifications, events, locations, and personal activities with a quick glance at their wrists, or by communicating to the watch directly through voice commands or simple touch interactions.

Therefore it seems likely that the smartwatch will work in concert with the smartphone. Yet the watch is a much smaller device than the phone, and due to such easy accessibility, smartwatches are likely to grab a considerable share of computing time away from smartphones. What does this all mean for marketers?

It means that advertising messages will have to change to accommodate smartwatches. There will be a boundary line where such ads cross over from being helpful information to being an intrusive annoyance. Perhaps it will be much more effective if those notices on your wrist are linked back to associated ads that reside on your phone, such as a lunch appointment notice that links back to a coupon for the restaurant you are about to visit.

By definition, a smartwatch is a highly personal device that is displayed on one’s wrist throughout the day. This is an important consideration because the Apple Watch is worn on the consumer’s body, not carried in a handbag or pocket. Therefore, it will require a uniquely personalized approach to advertising. We know that the more personal a device becomes, the more sensitive consumers feel about viewing ads on it.

The precise format for smartwatch advertising has not yet emerged, but it will definitely require some level of optimization technology to personalize the mobile content and drive greater consumer engagement. Consumer sentiments are sure to change from viewing miniature ads on the faces of their smartwatches. As a result, this shift will require creative new formats for advertising and marketing in order to tell a really good story.

About the Author


Shekhar Deo co-founded EngageClick with Manoj Rajshekar, a fellow student he met in the graduate engineering program at Carnegie Mellon University. The duo launched EngageClick in Palo Alto in 2012.

Shekhar has extensive product development experience in distributed systems, clustered systems, and data storage technologies from his prior roles at NetApp and Cisco. He received a BS in Computer Science and Engineering from VIT University in India, and an MS from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

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