Close-Up: Apple ready to revolutionise mobile advertising

Scott Seaborn explains why the iAd platform, due to hit the UK this year, offers exciting possibilities for creative agencies.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock the past few months, you'll have seen the slew of articles and blog posts about Apple's new iAd platform, which launches in the UK sometime this year. Most of these have focused on Apple as a corporate (and few companies divide opinion as much as Apple does) and the way it will operate in the advertising space.

But where will creative agencies sit in the iAd universe? How will Apple, (in)famous for its desire for control, deal with agencies? Or will it seek to bypass them altogether?

As a natural optimist, I think iAd offers creative agencies some interesting possibilities that we should seize. All of us in this industry want to make remarkable work that works and iAd is a great opportunity to do just that.

So what is iAd? Simply, it's a new form of interactive banner advertising, which can be found within mobile applications.

There are currently more than 250,000 apps in the Apple App Store. The developers who create these apps have two commercial models. One is to give away a "lite" version (which is ad-funded) and the other is to charge (on average 59p) for the "full" version. The problem is that in more cases than not, even with a combination of both models, your average developer cannot afford the continued development and growth of a good application.

So developers need to find a way to make some money. But the main problem with mobile advertising as it stands - and this is why every year for the past six or seven has been the year mobile finally fulfils its potential - is its incapacity to be emotional and its capacity to bug the hell out of people.

Imagine that you are enjoying The Guardian's app on your iPhone. You see an ad and click on it. Then the ad yanks you out of your app, throws you into a browser and takes you to the advertiser's web page. It's an unbelievably interruptive model of advertising. You may never find your way back to your app, so what's the result? People don't click on the ad.

The reason these current ads yank us out of our apps is because they are inserted from outside of the iPhone's operating system; they are not built into the apps.

So to combat this, Apple has integrated iAd into the new iOS4 iPhone operating system. This means that Apple has figured out how to deliver interactive and video content without ever taking you out of your app. You can experience great creative work and interact with it, then get back to right where you were in your Guardian app.

More interestingly for creative agencies, iAd is like a mini-brand universe that takes over your phone at your request and then goes away whenever you want it to. This "universe" can contain a host of different creative executions and elements: we can pretty much do whatever we need to do.

So within an iAd, we (agencies) can deliver bespoke film and audio, artwork content, games, multiple product purchase, one-click purchase, location-based services - the list is as endless and emotional as our creative imagination allows.

In a recent presentation, Apple's chief executive, Steve Jobs, demonstrated an iAd for a large furniture retailer, in which you can set up your entire university residence with sofas, beds, rugs and buy it all with one click. The whole process looked great and took less than a minute. It was an insight-driven brand experience with interactivity and one-click purchase. Jobs believes - and I think he's right - that people will be a lot more interested in clicking on something like that.

There's been much comment about the slow uptake of iAd in the US but Apple has signed up a number of initial advertisers - Unilever and Nissan among them - with opening spends between $1 million and $10 million. The same will happen in the UK when iAd comes here later in the year.

The European launch plans have still not yet been announced but as soon as they are, we can expect a rush of interest. The European team for iAd is headed by Todd Tran, an ex-WPP man (he was the managing director of Joule) and time-served mobile veteran, while the head of sales for EMEA is Theo Theodorou. Both will be busy answering calls over the next few weeks.

According to Jobs, the iAd market might be broken down like this: the average iPhone user spends 30 minutes each day using apps. If we want to put an ad up every three minutes, that would be ten ads per device per day. There are around 100 million Apple iOS devices (iPhones, iPads and iPod touches) out there. That's one billion ad opportunities per day. This is a pretty serious opportunity and if anyone can pull it off, it's Apple.

Personally, I'm looking forward to finally working with a mobile advertising format that we can be truly creative with.

- Scott Seaborn is the head of mobile technologies at Ogilvy Group UK.