Waze Does Display Advertising Right

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There was a time when I thought all display advertising was ”meh.” 

I have reasons (and deep) rationale to think this way. Few were around selling banner ads when they first came out, like I did. I was on the front lines of the dot com boom, bust and echo. I was there when search engine marketing first became a thing. I was there when the IAB came online, and standards became part of the formalization and validation of this advertising channel. This was before search engine marketing became the online advertising juggernaut that it is. Back then display (known as banner advertising) was much bigger than search. Now, it’s becoming abundantly clear: publishers can’t get off of the drug of display advertising. Still, consumers are pushing back with ad blocking, and marketers need a place to park the massive ad spend from dollars that are shifting over to digital. From brands to media companies to publishers, I have spent the vast part of the past two decades selling, promoting and watching this form of online advertising evolve. From the initial promise of performance and analytics, to its current state of branding.

Most of the time, display advertising is an afterthought. 

As online advertising evolves, my feelings have changed as well (I trust that yours have as well). Display units have become a necessary but complex part of publishing, and have not adjusted to replace the dollars that publishers have lost in their other traditional business models. Candidly, I had accepted them for what they are. That is until I started using the mobile app and awesome navigation tool, Waze (which was acquired by Google for over $1 billion in 2013). 

Waze does display advertising right. 

Like most display advertising formats, I was initially frustrated by the interruptive nature of Waze’s display advertising. After about ten minutes, I was in awe by how well done it is… and, more importantly, by how well done it will be, as it evolves and matures. Waze takes display advertising, and adds two components to it that make it so glorious. It’s not only relevant and powerful, but perhaps one of the smartest applications of display advertising online that I have come across:

  1. It’s only there when you’re not moving. Waze is great. Waze is free. It amazes me, because of what the typical cost of navigation systems have been in the past, and also because of the high level of user-generated value that is layered on top of it. Road closings, accidents, where the cops are hanging out, and more… in real time. This is the type of app that I (and many others) would probably be willing to spend some serious dollars on. So, if the “cost” of usage Waze is advertising, I’m willing to power through it. There are tons of dubious ways that Waze could have deployed an ad platform (banners along the bottom, interruption interstitials as you tap in your coordinates, etc…). The first thing they do brilliantly, is that you only see an ad when your car is at a red light or stopped for a longer period of time. At first, it was still an interruption model, but as soon as I realized how the creative was being initiated (and how it gracefully departs when the vehicle moves), it felt like a really smart execution.
  2. It’s hyper-local… or, at least, it can/should be. Almost all of the ads are relevant to where you are or what you’re doing. Gas stations, fast food dining, local merchants and more. If there is a lack of local advertising, Waze adds in a major chain (think fast food, gas stations, etc…). So, the ads are (or can be) super relevant, super local and super useful. This part is not perfect, but you can see that it can be, from the advertiser’s perspective (being able to target specific types of drivers in a range of distance from their business). Plus, it tells you how far that advertiser is from your current location, and wisely allows you to add them as a stop along your way.

What makes a great ad?

Relevant, timely, easy and valuable. Waze’s advertising platform is not perfect. It’s not always relevant and timely, but you can feel that this publisher has put a significant amount of effort into making the advertising experience valuable to the brand, and relevant with a hint of additional value to the user. Huge win in a world where most (including me) have become skeptical of display advertising efficacy and evolution.

You can’t ask for more, when it comes to display advertising