I absolutely love the iPhone apps for nytimes.com, usatoday.com and other major U.S. news outlets. But I don’t see how these great products will pay for journalism because the apps are free and none of these sites seem to display much paid advertising. However, if I missed something, please contact me.
In contrast, free iPhone apps from some overseas newspapers are showing paid ads. Download the apps to see examples from El Universal in Mexico City and El Pais in Madrid.
Unfortunately, both of these solutions have the same fundamental flaw — the banner ads click through to Web pages that aren’t designed for the iPhone’s small screen.
However, The Straits Times in Singapore goes the next step with a click-through to an advertising message that is legible on the iPhone. See below for a news page with banner ad, and the full-page ad you see after you click through.
The Straits Times model is good, but we can make it better.
First, the click-through seems unduly clunky. I think a reveal of the ad onMouseOver (sliding up from the bottom of the screen) would be far more elegant than a click-through.
Second, and more important, the banner ads should be improved in the following ways:
• unique selling proposition
• call to action
I wasn’t compelled to click on any ads I saw. To be effective, these ads should be irresistible. That’s the job to be done.
As designers, we know how to make the most of limited resources — in this case just a handful of pixels at the bottom of an iPhone screen.
Then we should redesign the complete ad that is revealed onMouseOver.
Here’s a page from USAToday’s mobile-optimzed site, which isn’t as customized as its iPhone app, but does provide a better experience than most newspapers on mobile devices. It uses an innovative tap-to-expand feature to show mobile-optimized video commercials which I haven’t seen elsewhere.
I agree that this is a great way to use technology to monetize online. Good for you, USAToday.com.
Still, there are a half-dozen things interfering with the cool online technology, in my opinion. All of them are easy to improve:
1. I count the phrase “usatoday” three times on this tiny screen. Every pixel on this tiny screen is too precious to waste. We probably can’t change Apple’s UI, but we don’t need that big, thick, blue USAToday bar - I already know what site I’m looking at without being reminded. I’m all for branding — I hear she’s a fine girl —but branding shouldn’t interfere with the end-user experience.
2. I count seven horizontal bands of information, looking like so many spaghetti boxes stacked on top of each other. If we eliminate the USAToday blue bar, that reduces the count by one. If we integrate the posting date with the title in the URL header or put it in the text, that eliminates another.
3. While I love the idea of a mobile-optimized video commercial, I’m not motivated to watch it based on the headline. “The all-new Flex” doesn’t grab me. Why should I care that it’s all new? I’m a Toyota guy, so Ford really needs to sell me. Besides, I learned to drive on my dad’s Ford Country Squire — I called it the White Whale — no wonder I’m a tough sell for Detroit.
4. Why say “Touch to expand” when the word “expand” is probably sufficient? Obviously, the ad won’t expand without some kind of user input. I assume that users of mobile devices are at least that savvy. If we eliminate two words, we have more pixels for a larger image or we can make the remaining words bigger.
5. And speaking of “expand,” this word choice gives me no indication that I can watch a video if I touch the ad. A better word choice might have been “play.”
6. I gotta believe Ford had a sexier image of the Flex than the one in this ad. This ad should have dared me not to touch it, but it doesn’t. Sex sells, but a box on four wheels does nothing for me. I’m not sure whether Ford is trying to reach men or women, but here are options for each, below:
7. And finally, the biggest omission is an editorial one - there is no text visible to identify the news photo, which could have been cropped from the bottom to reveal the headline.
If USAToday redesigns this screen and this ad to make both more effective for advertisers, then it might garner even more online revenue to help fund journalism.