Can the iPad bring back print advertising?

The print world may owe a debt of gratitude if the iPad helps save it

I got my start in this business making print ads.  I loved everything about them: the challenge of the blank page; the possibilities of the two-dimensional plane; the art of combining an image and words to yield an idea greater than the sum of the parts; and the chance to create pictures in a reader’s mind with nothing but a perfectly crafted headline.

In the early days, Mullen was known for its print.  Campaigns for Timberland, Smartfood, Swiss Army, LL Bean and many others were a perennial presence in local and national award shows. We built arguably one of the best studios in the business, worked with renowned photographers all over the world, and attracted art directors who were obsessed with the craft.

Then, thanks to the web, it all came crashing down.  We got all kinds of new creative platforms — video, social, mobile, applications — but the rapid demise of that age-old form so many of us loved was (for those of us over 40) shocking.  At least at first.

But now, the medium is about to get a second life. Thank you iPad. It will give us back all of things that made print great:

  • A large two-dimensional space on which to create a piece of commercial art that captures one’s attention.
  • A palette onto which we can place stunning visuals.
  • An environment (digital magazines) where a reader may actually welcome something remarkable rather than simply look for the little “x” to close the ad.

Of course, it will also inspire something entirely different:  a totally new digital form of print. Think Bernbach meets iPhone meets Wired meets UGC meets social media.  All potentially combined into a single execution that’s conceptual, engaging, user friendly.

Consdider what Pentagram has to say:

“The conventions of online advertising—banner ads, pop ups, and so forth—aren’t popular with readers, with advertisers, and certainly not with designers. But the iPad is a new medium that will create a whole range of opportunities. Once people start exploiting what it can do, we may see the kind of creative renaissance that will deliver the next George Lois or Lee Clow. People will start subscribing to certain i-mags just for the ads alone.”

If you’re not already thinking about the possibilities of the iPad and the creation of a new form of digital print you should be.  I imagine all of the following as possibilities.  Eventually you’ll be able to create ads that let consumers:

  • View a product from every imaginable angle with the flick of the finger.
  • Change the colors and patterns of anything from shirt and tie combinations to the interior of a car.
  • Upload and incorporate images of themselves into an execution so they can try on different outfits or pieces of jewelry.
  • Instantly link or connect to back stories about how a product was made; learn its carbon footprint or its nutritional information.
  • Find all their Twitter and Facebook friends who have bought the same brand or product to get their personal opinion (new application for Blippy?)
  • Explore a brand via digital games, back stories, or through integration with other media, i.e. TV shows.
  • Decide which version of an ad or which ad from a brand he even wants to see.
  • Share, vote, rate ads in real time forcing creators to get better and more responsive

So, while we’re still a couple of months away from the first shipments, there are a number of things you could be doing right now.  For starters, order your iPad and while you’re at it reserve at least a few for your creative department.  Then consider the following:

  • Make sure your current iPhone app developers are in touch with Apple regarding what will be possible with the iPad and have them share that with creative teams.
  • Learn what Conde Nast and other major publishers have planned for their magazines’ conversion to tablets and how you can create advertising that will work in their new digital formats.
  • Assemble a team made up of creative technologists, UX specialists, media planners, social media thinkers and creative people to start thinking about the possibilities.
  • Identify the brands and clients who are most willing and excited about re-inventing how to tell their stories.
  • Avoid simply migrating old content, images and OLA type executions to this new platform. It’s a chance to create something entirely new: executions that change daily; that include digital games; that incorporate real-time conversation.

I don’t have my iPad yet. (It is on order, though.) I haven’t seen a Conde Nast presentation in person. And I don’t have a team assembled internally as of today. But it’s all on the to do list. What about you?

Links and other articles of interest.

Sports Illustrated: Tablet Demo

Made by Many: Content design with cojones

CNN Tech: Print media hails iPad potential

Daily Illini: iPad could save print media

Pentagram: Five ways the iPad will change magazine design

C-Change Media: Why ads on the iPad and other tablets won’t make a difference

Steve Jobs photo by: curious lee

james kim
james kim

i certainly hope not. i do hope that it continues to whet our appetites for more visually engaging and arresting content. i hope that marketers use the platform to think of new ways of earning the attention of their audience - whatever that may entail. if our audience likes looking at 8x10 transparencies, then creating ways for our audience to have access to uber-quality imagery, courtesy of a brand, makes more sense to me then a return of the print ad.

Harrison Bailey
Harrison Bailey

The fact that the iPad brings to the marketplace an entirely new format offers great potential for successful digitalized print advertising, as you mentioned. However, this potential success hinges on an increased level of consumer interaction with the advertising itself. It's not, after all, that consumers don't want the information that publications offer or that they don't want the products that advertisers sell. Rather, I believe that the consumer is merely bored with the format - it's dated. In the future, I'm curious as to how developers could work on making ads more interactive using the iPad. You touched on the interactive concept a bit when you mentioned how consumers could possibly upload pictures and try on outfits and even progressed it a step further when you applied that concept to social media. As the world finally catches up with the speed of technology, as people become more connected, as cities become more populated, we will depend more and more heavily on this style of thinking to not only design a better physical world but also a better digital system for functioning within the urban landscape.

Harrison Bailey
Design & Management
Parsons/New School

Peter Pappas
Peter Pappas

Thanks Edward - smart and insightful as always.

Noel Wiggins
Noel Wiggins

I admit I an one of those that was disappointed when the ipad came out my notions of what I thought it would be was different than what was published.

But I now have to admit that I am becoming more and more open to the idea, (But wait) the video claimed that the adobe air app was making such and such possible, the ipad doesn't support flash though. Right?...


Thanks and Regards

Noel for
a graphic design studio

Bruce DeBoer
Bruce DeBoer

I sincerely hope you're on target. I believe you are too and even if this release doesn't do it, one in the future will. The ideas you list won't die; it's time to evolve.

As a photographer, it's like returning to the 8x10 transparency. Edward, surely you recall reviewing transparencies from a photographer's portfolio - well - here we go again back to the future.
.-= Bruce DeBoer´s last blog ..Pespi Refresh: good cause but what’s missing? =-.

Laura Kinsale
Laura Kinsale

I certainly hope so. Can we bring back copyeditors, the ones who would never put up with that skinny weird column of text next to the Steve Jobs photo at the beginning of your post?

I'd be real glad not to have to look at that sort of thing all day anymore.

(Not blaming you, just tired of Wordpress behind all the design wheels.)

Blair Shapiro
Blair Shapiro

great article! i completely agree. i saw this vid on wired 2 week ago and tweeted, "Get ready..."printeractive" advertising is coming."

saw your twittersation about it. i think what will make it possible on the iPad, as opposed to mag sites on the web, is the combination digital to drive the interactive display advertising + the user experience of holding it in your hands a.k.a like a magazine. leaning back WHILE interacting.

thanks for a great article.

.-= Blair Shapiro´s last blog ..Animal Planet =-.

Stuart Foster
Stuart Foster

I'm excited for the future AND the present.

But mainly because of this quote I just heard from @AdamWohl: It's a great opportunity to catch late adopters (which is a HUGE market).

It's not aimed at me. It's not really even aimed at the Iphone audience. (It will need to get a lot lighter/more functional in order to fully appeal to Gen Y)

It will hit it out of the park in the Boomer demographic though. Which is a perfect transient point to break in and rejuvenate the print format.

By the time the awesome creative executions have been realized? Gen Y will be hitting an income point that will allow for tremendous usage/adoption.

Adam is on to something. Took that point and decided to run with it.
.-= Stuart Foster´s last blog ..Come for the Creepy Porn, Stay for the Conversation =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Agree. Was not meant to be taken literally. Thought that was clear. Idea is that if magazines can now survive do to a platform that allows for them to once again regain "coherence and majesty" as Chris Anderson says, then the environment will once again restore what used to be "print" ads, but of course in the new digital format made possible not only by the iPad, but by our imaginations.

edward boches
edward boches

Check this out, from Penguin Books: I think it's the most basic example of what's about to come.

These days anything I can think of I can find an app for. Need a remote control? A bicycle light? A tape recorder? It's there. And that's basic stuff. Imagine what a brand can do to inform, entertain, interact, share, and connect with a reader(s). Possibilities are endless, from digital magic to long copy and narratives. Should be fun.

edward boches
edward boches

I think we'll see all kinds of examples. The equivalent of iPhone apps that appear in place of ad space; magnificent images that can grab attention,but then give way to multiple images and deeper content at the reader's will; website-like experiences of the kind that a Big Spaceship or Firstborn do so well. Or as Pentagram says, something entirely new, a modern commercial/digital art if you will.

edward boches
edward boches

Aah, that's so kind of you to come back :-) And I like a lot of what Jaron Lanier has to say. And I must also say I agree with you regarding the technical frustrations. If I told you how many times I dragged and re-sized that and other photos to attempt to achieve some semblance of reasonable design you'd think I was crazy. Alas, I am neither technical nor really capable as a designer. Interestingly I am often impressed with whatever template and open source software the world gives me. Perhaps I should raise both my expectations and demands. Guess I'll have to finish the rest of You are not a Gadget. Had put it on pause for a while. Thanks so much for the follow up comment.

Laura Kinsale
Laura Kinsale

My apologies, I did not mean to make you feel an ouch. I was thinking along the lines of your post, that maybe this was a chance for more things to look original and yet pleasing, the way they used to when humans did the layout.

Perhaps even a chance for software that will take care of things like that photo for you--it ought to be the sort of thing software can do, handle the math to create a classic balance of vertical and horizontal elements that pleases the human eye. It's just math.

But instead we have to do all that ourselves inside the straightjacket (or madhouse) of html, css or blogging clients, beating back the constraints put ON us instead of the programs doing the dirty work FOR us.

Can you tell I got here from your mention of Jaron Lanier? ;)

Anyway, my apologies again, I see that I sounded harsh, and I do love your content.

edward boches
edward boches

Ouch, that's harsh. Well I fixed it a bit. Hope it's a little more pleasing. But looking at a writer's art direction is like reading an art director's copy. Not quite the epitome of perfection in either case. Hope you'll come back for the content if not the design.

Blair Shapiro
Blair Shapiro

We're right, they don't have a choice...or do they? Just saw this and thought you'd find it interesting, if not a bit pathetic. As ad guys, I think this is gonna be one tough sell:

Mags To Their Digital Units: Drop Dead | paidContent

edward boches
edward boches

I am hoping you're right (and me) for a couple of reasons. I want the content from Malcolm Gladwell, David Resnick, Chris Anderson and the magazines and stories they create in a really cool digital environment. I also want my own ability to navigate, explore, bookmark, save and jump around in a more visual format than RSS. And as a creator of advertising I welcome the chance to explore new digital platforms for story telling and consumer engagement.

edward boches
edward boches

Yup, as this post on Made by Many's blog reminds us, most people don't even have RSS or know what it is. There are other challenges and some of my assumptions assume that people will want the digital magazine experience -- maybe, maybe not, depends what magazines actually do in the opt in, user-controlled digital space -- but it may very well be an opportunity for the reason you suggest: an easy migration for the non-digital savvy. An older boomer with bad eyesight for whom the smartphone is just too small of a screen.