Yes, it’s that time of the year again: time for the lists and discussions
about the best of 2010 and what’s ahead in 2011. I’m keeping my first
list simple by trying to answer just one question: What are the ad units/ad
platforms to watch out for in 2011?

Hint: None of them involve users accessing the web via desktop or laptop. 

Specialty tablet ads (kicked off by Apple, of course)

Though media buyers’ reactions to the iAd have been mixed, there’s no denying Apple shook up the marketplace with the launch of its proprietary ad unit. After all, what third party could better understand how to fully exploit the iPhone’s capabilities?

The industry wondered when that ingenuity would scale out to the iPad, and now we know. Apple’s first iPad iAd campaign launched this week for Disney’s TRON: Legacy. Big brand advertisers were among the first to devote budgets to the original iAds; expect them to do the same for the iPad iAds next year.

Yahoo iPad ad

But Apple will have stiff competition in 2011 – both from companies like Yahoo that have also launched their own, easier-to-implement iPad ads, as well as from other tablet-makers. Samsung already launched the first Android-powered tablet this year, and Microsoft will reportedly launch tablets with Samsung and Dell next year.

Given the success of the iAd, the other device manufactures will not hesistate to release their own proprietary ad units (or partner with specific networks to launch them).

Ebook ads

Kindles, and Nooks, and Kobo readers, oh my! Ebooks are clearly not just a fad. With Amazon selling “millions” of Kindles in the first few days of holiday shopping, and Barnes & Noble selling roughly 18,000 Nookcolor units per day, it’s safe to say that the reading devices have saturated the market.

What these devices haven’t done though, is really boost publisher/author revenues. Ebook ads could help them make more money. According to the WSJ, the popularity (scale) of ebooks definitely has advertisers interested:

Kindle

Marketers are exploring a variety of formats, including sponsorships that give readers free books. Videos, graphics or text with an advertiser’s message that appear when a person first starts a book or along the border of the digital pages are also in the works.

Ads can be targeted based on the book’s content and the demographic and profile information of the reader.

Meanwhile, digital book formats like the Vook – which include videos, audio and other interactive elements – could give advertisers access to potentially even more ad options like product placements.

The caveat is that no matter how well-crafted and “unobtrusive” the ad, some readers may still be pissed off. That could lead to a drop in brand affinity or purchase intent for the brand – the opposite of what they’d be investing in the ad for. That said, I think marketers will definitely be willing to experiment with ebook ads in 2011.

Targeted set-top box ads

The cable companies seem to be too big to figure out how to deliver addressable ads, so perhaps nimble startups like Boxee and Roku will lead the way.

These set-top box makers continue to add more content partners – DirecTV, for example, is pondering whether to syndicate its NFL Sunday Ticket to Boxee – and with more content, comes more eyeballs. More eyeballs means more advertiser interest.

Google TV logo

The indie set-top box makers need to generate revenue; since they don’t charge users for anything other than the actual devices, running ads could be a viable alternative revenue source. (An ad rev-share model could also make the networks more willing to let these companies access their content).

Meanwhile, big players like Google, Apple and Microsoft also have a stake in market for targeted, set-top box-based ads.

Microsoft has already been selling its Xbox LIVE audience – connected via the Xbox 360 – to advertisers with some success. Expect Google and Apple to flesh out, or at least test their own targeted ad units in 2011.

Your thoughts?

So, those are my picks for three content-based ad units to watch in 2011. Of the three, I think the tablet ads will gain the most traction. I think we’ll see the most experimentation with the ebook ads, and I think we’ll see caution – but definite interest – in the targeted set-top box space.

What do you think? Have I hit the nail on the head? Are there ad units you’re excited about watching next year?

 Photo Credit: dailylifeofmojo via Flickr