Monday 3 October 2016 5:30 am

High impact advertising: Undertone’s Rob Garber talks Facebook Canvas and attention-grabbing ad formats

Every day, each of us is exposed to thousands of advertising messages but we ignore the vast majority. New types of ad formats which are larger, more immersive or more interactive may be the way to cut through to engage a potential consumer and improve their experience of digital advertising.

“Brands are questioning the performance of standard inventory such as banner ads,” says Rob Garber, managing director of EMEA at Undertone, a digital adtech company which was one of the originators of the term “high impact advertising”. Since expanding to the UK five years ago, Undertone has specialised exclusively in these high impact formats. “It’s that one message you’ll remember,” he says. “It’s unmissable.”

Taking over

So what does a high impact ad look like? Undertone’s offerings include ads which can take over a user’s entire page when they are on a publisher’s website, like a news outlet, and those which simply push the content being read or watched further down the page, so an ad’s canvas fills an element of the screen.

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Others are more interactive. Last month, the agency launched its first user-initiated variety. A teaser icon hovers at the side of a publisher’s content and follows the user as they scroll down the page. The ad expands out to become fully viewable only when the user chooses to engage with it.

With the rise of mobile, Undertone has evolved its offering to harness the functionality of a user’s device. Encouraging people to swipe and tilt their phones to engage with an ad allows a brand to use creative which is more layered, and develop an experience which is more rewarding for the user. “A car brand could ask the user to shake left if they want a sports car, right for a 4×4. And then shake left if you want a sun-roof, right if you don’t. Suddenly you’re designing your own car,” says Garber. “People want to play with ads. They don’t simply want to know that there’s a two-for-one offer.”

Undertone either creates a new advert for its formats, or adapts a brand’s existing assets to work in these new ways. “Havas came to us and said that Emirates had developed a 360-degree video of the interior of an aeroplane, so potential customers could experience business and first class.” It is this creative potential which Garber is excited about, “push[ing] the creative boundaries to do things which people have never thought of”.

People want to play with ads. They don’t simply want to know that there’s a two-for-one offer

High impact ads generate more attention than standard banner ads and must be used sparingly, thinks Garber, so as not to diminish their effectiveness or alienate the audience. “We will limit the number of impressions to one or two per user over the lifetime of a campaign,” he says. And adapting assets for high impact comes with a set of technical requirements to ensure the most agreeable experience for the user. For example, Undertone puts its own tags on publishers’ sites so that it can render ads correctly onto pages of different sizes. “That’s a cost to our business. But otherwise, if you’re just firing a big format onto a page, it will break that page,” says Garber.

Filling the canvas

Until recently, delivering a video ad on a mobile device was a problem for advertisers. “First, there is a scarcity of quality pre-roll inventory,” he explains, referring to the type of ads which play before Youtube clips. “The other consideration is the amount of data taken out of a user’s data plan.” Indeed, it hardly seems fair that the consumer should pay for the privilege of having a video ad play on their phone when they have little choice in the matter. Instead of using a 15 second video, Undertone uses a sliced-up PNG sequence which lasts just seven seconds.

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There are several advantages to this, Garber explains. The first is that video ads of that duration fall within the average human attention span – 8 seconds. They have a low file weight – keeping the data cost down for the user – and can be delivered against a publisher’s inventory, instead of the rarer and dearer pre-roll.

If Undertone has been championing high impact for a number of years, it has been Facebook’s foray into the space which has validated it. Earlier this year, Facebook began supporting the type of high impact ad Undertone creates with its Canvas offering. While immersive formats have historically been slow to load on mobile devices, Canvas has virtually eliminated loading times for high impact ads in mobile, expanding them from within its news feed. And Undertone is its first partner using Canvas as a high impact retargeting solution.

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“Canvas is about providing amplification,” says Garber, “and should be used as a part of a broader targeting strategy.” If you want to create brand awareness, first run a very large high impact unit on a publisher’s site. Then reinforce the message in a more targeted and tactical way on a social site, he says. This is where Canvas comes in. “If someone is aware of a new car launch, they can be re-exposed to it on Facebook and will hopefully share it with their friends.”