Today, ads are something we skip. They coat everything we watch, read and listen to like a sticky film, blinking and shouting and shocking us into paying attention. Their value is measured in "impressions," how many people's eyeballs scan past them, and on the Web, a click on an ad is the holy grail. That's what passes for "engagement."
Have you ever seen an ad that made you say, "My daughter would love this ad!" Cooliris builds ad technology that elicits that response. "Our vision is to make every single pixel in the ad interactive and living," says Aneesh Karve, product manager of Cooliris' ad technology, AdJitsu. So far, it has pushed mobile and desktop ads into three dimensions, creating ads you can go into and look around. Today, it's offering a first look at "high-interaction" ads, which unlock the laws of physics in touch-controlled ads.
The Crack of Dawn
When I first met Cooliris, it was making 3D AdJitsu ads. These got noticed by the market, but the team began to realize that advertisers were fixating on the 3D tricks itself, the trees, rather than the forest of immersive ads Cooliris wants to build.
"We were talking immersive, but the market was hearing '3D,'" says CEO Soujanya Bhumkar. Aneesh Karve says the most common question they get about their product is, "Do I need 3D glasses?" But the 3D stuff was just an example. "This is the future of how you do display advertising."
"Whatever is available on the technology stack that we're deploying to, we're going to pull out the bag of tricks available to us and make something cool out of that."
The 3D ads use WebGL in browsers, and they run natively on iOS. This is a technology for which the market isn't quite ready. Phones will have blazing-fast graphics soon, but they don't yet. "3D is awesome, but right now 3D penetration on mobile is just at the crack of dawn," Karve says. "What we wanted to do was reach more people on today's technology."
Today, Cooliris has a demo that steps back from the 3D cliffs and canyons they've been showing around so far. It's a simple game with real physics. You tap the screen, and round pieces of candy appear. They roll down, in the direction of gravity, and they bounce off each other like real objects.
The engine was designed by a physicist. The existing software development kit contains the full physics engine, so they can reach more people whether or not they have WebGL.
Objects feel as real as possible. They're aware of each other, they respond naturally to the forces of the user's input. Gravity is dynamic to the accelerometer. Whichever way is down is the way the candy falls. Coming up next for AdJitsu is realistic momentum and friction. The point is not to make something loud and noticeable. It's to make an ad that you want to play with as though it's a real object.
When demoing high-interaction ads, a partner told the team, "My daughter would love this ad." That's a pretty good sign.
You Don't Have to Be A Physicist
AdJitsu ads can be built using PageKit, its own set of tools that allows developers to write ads in 3D and with real physics without having to know how. When approaching 3D ads, Cooliris knew they had to build something more democratic. Not everyone is an OpenGL graphics programmer. Karve says the goal of PageKit is to enable any artist with Photoshop, HTML and CSS skills to make something immersive and high-fidelity. "Now, you don't have to be a physicist to write a miniature game with real-life dynamics."
Since its a format any HTML developer will recognize, the ads also support normal rich media content like embedded video. The output supports browsers or the native iOS environment. Here's a video of Max, a 13 year-old up-and-coming programmer, demonstrating how PageKit works. Don't worry; he'll walk you through it.
Ads You Want To See
To Cooliris, the value of ads is not about impressions anymore. It's about time spent in the ad. These are ads you can go into and play with. But this isn't "gamification." It's not a gimmick to trick users into clicking more. It's just there, it feels real, and it piques your interest. You'll never remember the brand if you don't enjoy the ad experience. Cooliris thinks that experience is the most important part.
What do you think? Does this ad look fun? Would you stick around and play?