local media insider

iPad 2.0: How pretty turns a profit

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A funny thing happened on the way to the iPad store: Newspaper executives began thinking about ad design in a serious way.

The iPad allows local media to acquire new, younger and more affluent audiences - but requires the look and feel of a national magazine. Audiences have higher expectations for the experience on the iPad, and media executives have good reason to prevent their shiny new iPad brands from being devalued by crappy, repurposed ads: $45 CPM's that the devices command. Suddenly good design is an important subject in the C-suite.

It's time for local media to start looking good. The iPad has potential to overthrow Newspaper Next's "good is enough" standard that convinced a generation of media executives to strive for speedy mediocrity. I won't name names, because we've all done it, but I still see sites with "clickable" print-style ads (ugh), e-editions whose pages actually turn (yawn) and language on "submit" buttons that could have been written by Dostoyesky.

Here's what I love about good design: It's free. That is once you train, cajole, inspire and monitor an interdepartmental groups with other priorities like zapping out production ads or, simply, making a buck. Still, hidden in the 45-minute-an-ad-department (yes, I've clocked and ratioed them myself) are people with deeply rooted desires to create good design. There are also plenty of sales people who want to present "amazing" not just passable ads programs to their clients.

So painful as it seems at first, getting better at structuring digital ad formats is long over-due.

Large companies who do a lot of A/B testing can attest to the importance of incredibly small visual changes (a kind of butterfly affect) on click-through rates of not just banners, but also landing pages, site promotions and e-commerce interfaces. For local media, however, ad design has been an "also ran" issue in a universe defined by $1.50 remnant CPM pricing.

The iPad changes all that. One executive says his team refers to his iPad design as "2.0, affectionately" (O.K. it's Doug Bennett, president of Freedom Interactive, whose iPad initiative is our top report this week) and that iPad ad formats will require management sign-off. This is good. Local media companies need to fall in love with the beauty of good design, on and offline. This is one of the side benefits the iPad brings to an industry that grew up letting advertisers junk up their ads with colored starbursts and car dealers shout in our faces.

For those of you interested in a fun way to brush up on User-Experience aesthetics, WhichTestWon.com sends out a free weekly quiz to test your eye on a variety of A/B situations and then let's you click to see the actual result.

SubscriptionSiteInsider.com also has a number of for-pay white papers I highly recommend. Paid sites are especially in tune to interfaces since they live and die by the success of their shopping carts.

FYI iPads with small external key boards are already supplanting lap tops on Sillicon Valley campuses. An app called "Desktop" allows you to split the screen, overcoming a key downside of the Pad. Using Android's 3GMobile app creates an instant Wifi hotspot, allowing people to avoid AT&T altogether. Still, I had to publish this week on an iPad and can't wait to get the laptop back!

Much thanks this week to Doug Bennett for sharing his views and expertise on how to create iPad platforms that grow audience share.

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