Yahoo’s new ad offering is just another missed opportunity (Column)

Kiip's co-founder says native ads are not the way forward

Kiip’s co-founder says native ads are not the way forward

Brian Wong is the CEO and co-founder of mobile rewards company Kiip

When Yahoo boldly declared earlier this year that it was breaking up with mobile banner ads, it seemed like a real game changer. With its influence and resources, Yahoo had the opportunity to define the industry going forward and present its global audience of 800 million monthly users – more than half of whom access Yahoo from mobile devices – with new forms of engagement.

Brian Wong

The company has now finally unveiled its replacement offering – mobile-first, image-rich native ads. How underwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m over the moon that Yahoo is kicking mobile banner ads to the curb, and I recognize that this is just a first step that the company will continue to build on and improve. The reason I’m aiming at Yahoo is simply because they are the latest company to reveal a “new” mobile ad strategy relying on native ads – a familiar tool that advertisers have been using for years.

Here’s why I’m deeply disappointed in Yahoo’s “big” move and native ads on mobile in general.

Innovation by Deception

In Yahoo’s blog post announcing the new ads, Ned Brody, its head of Americas, noted that “while clearly marked as sponsored, the ads will look and act just like the content around them…” Essentially, disguising ads to take on the appearance of content is the innovative approach Yahoo has taken. The new ads are basically a dressed-up banner ad – the pictures are prettier and bigger and it’s less transparent and obvious that it’s an ad. Of course advertisers love that their ads now blend in better, but what about consumers? They are an afterthought and, as a result, on the losing end.

No Added Value for Consumers

From the blog post again: “When people tap on the ads, they can visit the brand’s site directly or view a full-screen visual for even greater interactivity and impact.” There is a fundamental misunderstanding of how to approach the consumer with Yahoo’s native ads. Advertising needs to be contextually relevant and seamlessly cater to their existing behavior. The consumer is not surfing Yahoo to be tricked into tapping on ads – they’re doing it to catch up on news and read articles that interest them.

Instead of interrupting that process, Yahoo should find a way to allow brands to take part in those moments that are already taking place (e.g., sharing an article, posting a comment, watching a video). Whether that comes in the form of a reward, a digital coupon or other engagement mechanism, mobile advertising must respect the consumer’s original intention and – most importantly – add value. What fuels this industry is user engagement, and making ads bigger and more annoying isn’t going to deliver that. The irony in all of this is that Yahoo is cannibalizing its own user experience by taking users away from its own site if they choose to visit the brand’s site.

A Missed Opportunity

My frustration stems from the fact that Yahoo missed the opportunity to change the whole ecosystem around targeting, and instead opted to build an ad unit that is designed for widespread placement. Consumers don’t want ads everywhere; they want ads to be actionable, and this isn’t actionable – it’s a picture. Yahoo’s mission to address users’ “daily habits” is being accomplished by pestering users with “daily ads.”

I wish Yahoo and others would delve deeper into the mobile experience and take advantage of how these devices enable brands to be conscious of the end consumer’s emotions. Creating compartmentalized ads for the smaller screen shouldn’t be the industry’s focus; it should be that the phone is the most intimate device we’ve ever owned and gives brands one of the best opportunities to closely connect with consumers.

These shortcomings are found in practically every other advertising company’s announcements about “new ad formats” and evolving for mobile. But, in the end, this was Yahoo’s opportunity to take a leap. Instead, it made an incremental improvement and wasted an opportunity.

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