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The evolving complexities of interactive tablet ads

Beginning in late July, just as the 2012 Olympic Games were kicking off, Polo Ralph Lauren purchased a massive ad buy on The New York Times iPad app. Essentially, Ralph Lauren became a sponsor of the iPad app, becoming the sole advertiser, which enabled readers to access all New York Times content on the app. The campaign lasts until August 12.

Ralph Lauren’s ads are heavily interactive, featuring new content and elaborate e-commerce elements. The campaign was designed by Ralph Lauren’s in-house creative team and advertising agency, and built and hosted by Medialets, a provider of ad serving and creative platforms.

Direct Marketing News speaks with both Todd Haskell, Group VP of advertising at The New York Times, as well as Eric Litman, chairman and CEO of Medialets, about the campaign.

Interview with Todd Haskell, The New York Times

What’s the nature of the relationship between The New York Times and Ralph Lauren?

This is the second time we’ve done a program like this with Ralph Lauren. Thirty years ago, Ralph Lauren, when he was first expanding the organization, used to run these 20 to 25 page sections in the The New York Times Sunday Magazine, because he felt that to communicate what the brand was about, he needed to give the readers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the brand. Ralph Lauren runs (ads) in the newspaper every week. They look to create different experiences with different platforms.

Fast forward 30 years: his son David runs marketing and he’s taking the same approach and doing it in a contemporary manner with the tablet device.

Why advertise on a tablet app?

The tablet is an inherently immersive experience. This creates an opportunity for Ralph Lauren to deliver a spectacular content experience. It’s got ton of content, video, interactive, e-commerce, and everything that takes the core DNA of what Ralph Lauren is all about and delivers it in an interactive experience.

How does this campaign differ from previous campaigns run by Ralph Lauren in the Times?

It varies in terms of creative. Last September there was a general Ralph Lauren broad-based experience. [The current campaign] is very specific to the sports of summer and is also a little more sophisticated in terms of the shopability and e-commerce functionality. It makes it a more frictionless.

The previous campaign had [these features] but it was less extensive.

Who handles integration?

Integration is done totally on Ralph Lauren’s side. We embed their content if you will into the app, but the e-commerce is on their side.

There was some controversy around Ralph Lauren outsourcing the manufacture of the U.S. Olympic uniforms to China, which the Times reported. Was content verification a major concern?

We have ways of making sure we don’t have strange adjacencies, and those are in place in all of the platforms.

What have you learned about your readers?

What we’re seeing is the type of content that people are engaging with from our side. We’ve seen that things multimedia, data visualizations, and things of that sort are driving enormous amounts of traffic. Instead of coming to the New York Times for commodity information that you can get anywhere, we find that readers are coming to us for really beautiful ways to tell complicated stories. And they’re spending enormous amount of time doing so.

As an example: What does it take to run the [100m sprint], a race run consistently? [We have] amazing data visualization showing who won that race going back to the 1890s. It’s driven a huge amount of engagement and interest.

Interview with Eric Litman, Medialets

Medialets provides a platform that has ad serving and ad creation capabilities. It also has analytics built into the back-end. The vendor is the ad platform behind all of the New York Times‘s mobile properties.

Have you worked with The New York Times and Ralph Lauren before?

This is the third year we’ve worked together with New York Times and Polo Ralph Lauren to do an interesting execution.

How has Ralph Lauren’s advertising evolved?

They’ve grown on each other. The first one was a beautiful but relatively straightforward execution. And the last two were a really robust, super rich magalog experience. We streamed a live fashion show into it. This one is a relatively similar format to the previous magalog, but it takes it significantly further. Polo Ralph Lauren focused on very consumable commerce.

In the execution last year, there were a lot of high-end items. This time because of the affiliation with the Olympic team, they wanted to make it easy to buy things from the ad.

Seems like tablet advertising is becoming increasingly ambitious.

It’s been this iterative learning experience as [companies have] become more and more comfortable with what mobile can do, with what tablets can do. As capabilities of tablets have evolved, the other important thing to think about here, it’s not the devices themselves that are advancing; people who use them are much smarter about what a tablet means to them now than they were a couple of years ago. The comfort level of the marketer is also growing.

To do the ad with the complexity of what we’re seeing is a significant amount of work. But it’s the thing that’s best done by folks who’ve done this before. I would not recommend a first tablet execution be something of this scale.

What were the complexities?

How do you take the content, all of the commerce experience, and what it is that Polo Ralph Lauren wants to convey and put it into a format that feels easy? There’s a whole bunch of technology required to do that. How do you make the ad seamlessly integrate into the iPad app? How do you integrate commerce directly into the app? You notice as you browse and look at products, you can do that without leaving the ad unit itself.

What are you measuring with this ad campaign?

We measure everything. How engaged people are in the ad. The rate at which people choose to view the ad. How many people opted to go in. Direct sales from ad unit themselves. This is a brand-focused campaign. They want to show off the product, the relationship with the Olympics, but at the same time because of the interactive nature of the device, they can accomplish both brand objectives and direct commercial objectives.

How is Ralph Lauren measuring success?

They’re using engagement rates, rate at which people choose to view the ads. And they’re looking at the sales that’s driving through the commercial aspect of it. So it’s sort of brand and direct response objectives.

So, if I’m a brand that wants to execute an elaborate media buy integrating e-commerce on a publisher’s iPad app, what do you recommend?

We’d need to know the products, the pricing, and if those things change on a dynamic basis.

Would you say these increasingly complex tablet ads represent a trend, or are ads like what’s happening with Ralph Lauren and The New York Times more like one-offs?

I think we’re seeing some glimmers in where advertising in mobile is heading. Seeing commerce integrated more and more into ad units will happen. I think we will see more video and interesting applications of video. I think we’ll see more social integrated into ads.

We’ll see ads customized based on what we know and do. The ability to add an entry from our address book on a device, for instance. Our devices have a tremendous wealth of information and utility around the things we do, the way we live our lives.

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