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Cross-device Portability Demands, Part IV

Posted on Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 12:49 PM

Want to sell cross-device ads? There are big problems to overcome.

By William Dunkerley

Pew Research has reported that by 2015, 66 percent of Americans already owned at least two digital devices (smartphone, desktop or laptop, tablet) -- and that 36 percent owned all three. The company also claims about 7 in 10 American adults currently own smartphones. What's more, there is growing evidence that users of small-screen devices are willing to use them to read magazine-length articles.

By this time there should be no illusions about the need for publishers to adopt the kind of cross-device portability that "responsive Web design" (RWD) provides. We've covered the basics of this concept in earlier parts in this series.

While it is perfectly feasible to create editorial designs for RWD, advertising is a different story. That's because in current practice, many ads have a dimensionally fixed format. Look here to see an illustration of a leaderboard ad on a desktop, and here to see how it gets butchered by RWD.

The editorial content successfully flows into the new screen size, but the ad does not. That does not happen in all publications. Some will allow the RWD to scale down the size, much as you would reduce the size of a photo. One problem in doing that to an ad is that all but headline type might become unreadable.

Here are illustrations:

Full-screen view.

Mobile view.

What makes this problem more intractable is that many such ads are not hosted on the publication's server. The page has code embedded that reaches out and grabs the ad from a third party. So the ads don't conform to the responsive design.

One workaround many publishers use is to sell ad sizes that will fill the width of a small screen. But when the ad is viewed on a PC, it becomes just a tiny fractional. The accumulated knowledge about ad effectiveness tells us that this is not a good idea. Small ads are less effective than large ads.

If an advertiser wants to pay for a big splash, that means filling the screen horizontally (and perhaps vertically too) no matter what the screen size is.

But there does not seem to be a technical remedy for this problem at present. The trick would be to embed a specially prepared ad into the publication's RWD format. I discussed this need with M.J. Johnson and Rob Morton at Akamai Technologies. They readily saw the utility of the approach. They suggested there would be still another benefit: it would help advertisers avoid the increasing use of pop-up blockers.

There's another workaround that we'll present in a future part of this series.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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