What makes a good advertisement? From a consumer's standpoint, a good ad is entertaining, helpful, and hopefully not too much of an interruption. Ads are a part of life for consumers, especially on the Web. In exchange for getting all this stuff for free or cheap, we accept the background noise of advertising.

But advertisers don't want to be in the background. They want ads to be engaging, interesting, even fun - whatever creates a lasting memory of the product. It's an attention economy, and whatever can grab users' attention wins. But touch-driven mobile apps are so immersive, advertisers need to step their game up. Palo Alto-based Cooliris has a solution, and the team thinks the science backs it up. World, ready or not, here comes interactive, touch-controlled, 3D mobile advertising.

"The advertisement experience does not have to be sub-par compared to the application experience," Cooliris CEO Soujanya Bhumkar says. "Good experience matters, because that is what delivers high engagement." To deliver that experience, Cooliris has created a standalone business unit called Adjitsu to build 3D mobile ads that users can touch to move, pinch, zoom and explore products.

"What we wanted to do was create a new generation of ads that allowed people to decide which parts of the experience they wanted to indulge in," says Aneesh Karve, product manager at AdJitsu. "Our mantra is pretty simple. It's 'Beyond HTML5.' We think [AdJitsu ads are] the next generation, which goes beyond video and beyond HTML."

"Video is telling the consumer what they should look at," Karve says. "What we've tried to do with our ads is to allow the consumer to decide which part of the ad they're most interested in."

The Ad Is An App

An AdJitsu ad starts off as a small, out-of-the-way display ad, but it has a 3D model of a product, like a new smartphone, suspended inside it. The model is linked to the device's accelerometer. As the user tilts the phone or tablet he or she is using, the product tilts and turns, catching the user's attention. Ideally, the user will then tap the ad, which expands to into a full-screen, app-like experience where the user can manipulate the product using typical touchscreen gestures.

The advertiser can display more info about the product on the screen alongside the model, but the experience is designed around letting the user closely examine the product and kick the tires a little bit - virtually, of course.

Karve says these ads are especially effective for "products that consumers need to hold in their hands." It's not just for consumer electronics, but jewelry or clothing, too. "People want to see how a fabric hangs or how a material looks in a certain light, and we're uniquely capable of providing those kinds of experiences."

This Is Your Brain On AdJitsu

It's neat, it's technologically advanced, and it shows off the product better than any static or video ad can. But does it really engage users with the product? Cooliris has enlisted a neuromarketing firm called MindSign to prove that it does, and this is where things get a little... edgy.

MindSign is a San Diego facility that uses functional MRI to analyze consumer reactions to products and advertising. An fMRI scanner magnetically tracks hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein in the blood, as blood flows in the brain. When blood cells offload oxygen to activated brain cells, the hemoglobin's magnetic field changes, which shows up in the scan. This allows researchers to measure the level of activity in specific areas of the brain in real time.

Science Channel video from MindSign explaining how fMRI works:

MindSign did a study for Cooliris that presented one group of subjects with a Cooliris ad and another with a video ad that was the same, shot by shot, but not interactive. Using the fMRI, MindSign produced video of the subjects' brain activity as they experienced the ads. MindSign found that the passive act of watching video was the "most deactivating" experience across all subjects. The subjects who manipulated the 3D ads were lit up all over their brains, engaging motor and attention areas.

We're not neuroscientists at RWW, so the subtle differences between the scans might be lost on us, but one clearly defined area of difference was the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, what MindSign calls the "personal meaning area." This is a central region of the brain involved in decision making. "It's an area that activates with what I would call good, engaging content," says MindSign vice president Philip Carlsen.

Unfortunately, MindSign couldn't provide RWW with a shareable video that compared the control and 3D subjects side by side, but they did offer these still images that show an average activation across the whole trial. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is mostly dark for the control group, but it's brightly colored for the group that saw the AdJitsu ads:

fMRI of control brain (left) versus 3D ad exposure (right)

Is Neuromarketing For Real?

Does this activation necessarily correspond to the kind of engagement advertisers want? MindSign couldn't really answer that. This is a brand new science, and MindSign admits it. "fMRI is still in an infant state as far as neuromarketing goes," says Carlsen. "Activation is compared to a baseline looking at a blank screen with a crosshair on it, so you're going to want your stimuli to be more activating than the crosshair."

"Whether that's good activation because they love it or bad activation because they're disgusted," Carlsen says, "that depends on the stimuli."

"The reporting that we do fits into the traditional marketing reports of memory retention, brand recognition, value judgments, but we can do lots more than that," MindSign president Devin Hubbard says. "You can quantify, pretty objectively, the brain reaction in these key areas that are researched and known to be caused by certain stimuli, and they react accordingly."

For now, it sounds like the best fMRI can do for advertisers is provide a corroborating hunch alongside traditional marketing surveys.

Bringing UI Into Advertising

"The importance of engaging MindSign was to show the brands that they could get a higher return on their investment for their dollars," Karve says. "A lot of the really deep things advertisers want to track, you can't do with just Internet cookies or tracking session data from an app. So by going to the brain data, we want to establish how this is going to really have an impact on people."

The brain data do look differently between the control group and the 3D ad subjects, but it's hard to make the case conclusively that this means 3D ads are really better ads. But there's no question that these AdJitsu ads make fuller use of the Web technology and hardware that users love than traditional ads do.

What do you think? From a user standpoint, does the opportunity to play with the ad in 3D make it more interesting to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.