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How Quartz approaches online advertising with ‘less is more’

As Quartz’s fifth anniversary approaches, they’ve approached online advertising strategy in a different manner than the majority of their contemporaries. Instead of covering their site pages with flashing, annoying ads, something reminiscent of a pinball machine, Quartz as a web property is deliciously appropriate.


Quartz machines with brains ()



They’ve taken a ‘less is more’ approach to online ads, Jay Lauf, co-president and publisher of Quartz, explained, which has worked extremely well for the media company as a way to boost revenue.

Jay Lauf will speak at DIS 2017 ()

When Quartz was launched in 2012, it was a chance to do something completely different regarding online ads. “We didn’t have to dismantle ad units - which in my mind had sprung up like weeds across the internet - banner ads, pop ups, hyperlinks. It was apparent by then that these ad units were not effective because they either annoy or were easily ignored by readers,” Lauf said. “When we were getting ready to launch in 2012, I thought, why replicate that?”

In terms of user interface and design, Quartz was designed for the tablet first and the mobile phone second, which forced the company to rethink advertising as a revenue stream.

“Why couldn’t digital advertising be akin to print advertising in the September issue of Vogue,” Lauf asked, adding, “Why couldn’t advertising be part of the experience and not an intrusion on the experience?”

Lauf reasoned, “There are sites I go to where I want to read the content, but an ad pops over and I have to wait 10 seconds for it to go away,” he said. “I don’t wait for that. There's no site that's important enough for me to wait through a 10-second pop-up interstitial.”

So, from the beginning, there were no Outbrain or Taboola types of advertising on Quartz pages. There were no pop-ups, no takeover ads. Instead, they rethought what digital advertising could be in terms of user experience, and allowed audience visitors to their site encounter ads in a natural flow as they scrolled through the Qz.com site.

Secondly, there were two types of online ads Lauf wanted to do, that would fit. “One was display, we’ve got a display ad called Engage, a big beautiful oversized canvas for classic ads, or, content, native ads. We called that Bulletin. That is content for marketers that is genuinely valuable to our readership.”

For Quartz, this approach to advertising has been beneficial. Visitors (and loyal, regular readers) to Qz.com find it is a less cluttered environment, “so, when a reader encounters an ad, they might actually enjoy it, because they're not being assailed every second and the ad format is more engaging and beautiful than banner ads and takeovers and so on,” Lauf explained.

This strategy has at the same time created scarcity of product for advertisers. “It creates better performance for those ads,” Lauf said. “Those ads get more interaction.”


Quartz header ()


Creating good mobile ad experiences

For publishers around the world, the majority of content consumption today is done on a mobile device. That means the advertising experiences people have on mobile have become crucially important.

If visiting a publisher’s site on a mobile phone resembles a pinball machine, with flashing, blinking ads that take over a screen or don’t go away, or follow people around the internet, or invade or chew up data plans, people are likely to abandon the site.

And never come back.

So, ad experiences have to be good. A good advertising experience on mobile can’t be intrusive, according to Lauf. “A good experience should not intrude or impede your experience and I think there's way too much of that,” he said. “You have to be very design conscious, because mobile screens are small and if you're not oriented to the size and behaviour of the screen, you can create all kinds of designs that look like a pinball machine or Times Square, that repel you and I think that's critical.”

It’s also critical for advertisers and publishers to look at load times. “You don’t want to run mobile ads that are so heavy in code and functionality that they don't load, that they slow down a site,” he continued.

Mobile devices are intimate, and publishers have a chance with advertising for that platform to delight audiences with clever gamification or surveys. Yet, as a platform, mobile leads publishers to experiment with all sorts of things. Quartz’s ad innovation takes advantage of things like gyroscopes, or pressure sensitive mobile screens to create interesting interactions, according to Lauf.

For example, Quartz launched an ad with HPE and DigitasLBi recently, that is an AI-enabled chatbot called Hugo, that talks with users about technology trends and insights. “It's an ad that has a conversation with you, and will get smarter over time,” Lauf explained. “So, if you come back to the ad, it will get smarter over time, it will learn and have different kinds of interactions with you.”


Hugo Qz ()



Performance metrics show that Quartz’s ads work a lot better than banner ads. As a result, Lauf said, their audience is happier because they are not bludgeoned by bad advertising, their advertisers are happier because those ads work (and therefore more willing to pay more for those ads), and so the publisher is happy.

Reducing online advertising, and instead focusing on ad formats with increased engagement and performance is a strategy that has worked for Quartz. “The lesson from Quartz so far, is that you can do that, successfully. You have to have the stomach and make the argument for bringing your prices up, which you should be able to do if there is scarcity,” Lauf explained. “You have to have a very clear, defined and compelling value proposition.”


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