Think puny

We’ve recently been working on a digital advertising campaign for one of our clients. The campaign includes “billboard” and “leaderboard” ads on a couple different websites. It also includes one ad designed for the tablet format, and one designed for a mobile app. That’s a mobile phone app-- you know, the size of a mobile phone screen. The ad boasts a prime position at the bottom of this particular news app’s home page, under the feature stories.

It depends on the size of your phone’s screen, but on my iPhone that mobile app ad is, in real measurements, 5/16 of an inch by just under two inches. I know, because I measured it with my old-fashioned Westcott ruler. Now I’m well aware that websites and smart phone apps sell advertisements in sizes based on pixie dust… er, I mean pixels. They say that this ad is 640 x 100 pixels. I call it puny.

Try to imagine if the ad pictured below, universally recognized as one of the greatest ads in the history of advertising, had to be executed in that 5/16” deep space.

I’m thinking the agency, Doyle, Dame and Bernbach, may have had to change its message. The headline would certainly be appropriate. But the Beetle would more resemble… well, a bug. A very small bug. Like a flea.

Working in a canvas the size of fortune cookie is certainly a challenge. There’s a limit to what you can say or show there. And you’re not going to hang that particular canvas up on your office wall, never mind an advertising museum. Unless the museum is the size of the Cheez-it museum* my art director friend and I made when we worked at Cabot Advertising in the old days.

(*The Cheez-it museum was built into an empty light socket in my office. There were two customers in the “museum,” both very stale, faded Cheez-its. The art work on the walls included stamp-size paintings like George Washington Cheez-it Crossing the Delaware and Mona Cheeza. The time we spent working on the Cheez-it Museum did not make it to our “time-sheets.” But I digress.)

Here’s the thing, and it kind of kills me. These teeny-tiny ads can be really effective. This particular extra-small space ad gets more click-thru’s than any other ad in the campaign. It is driving thousands of potential customers every month to our client’s web site. It is a huge lead generator. A huge, puny lead generator.

Sure a lot of it has to do with the power of the message and the cleverness of the concept. I like to think that, anyway. And I like to think the client thinks that too. But I wonder if people are starting to prefer our shrinking media and the resulting tiny art. Maybe they like the fact that we’ve gone from album covers, to CD’s and cassettes, to little Cheez-it sized squares on an iPod. Maybe they prefer watching their favorite cineramic, widescreen movies on their tablet or phone. Maybe they like squinting.

I don’t know the reasons why. But I do know that the obstacles to producing creative, fun, visually exciting advertising are getting bigger all the time. Because the ads themselves are just getting smaller. I can tell, I can see it, no matter how many hundreds of pixels you’re selling.