Ryan WhyteOur mission is to make advertising that adds value, rather than takes value away, because frankly we believe that a lot of the ads that we all see every day can be a whole lot better. Perhaps the worst examples I’ve ever seen of how not to do digital advertising came from Samsung with their recent and interruptive Android notification tray ads.


Samsung has a history of great advertising, from the anti-Apple ads that made 72andSunny famous, to the World’s Most Beautiful TV, to #TextsFromMom. They make us laugh, make us curious, inspired us and (maybe most importantly) make us want to share their content with our friends. Videos of all three ads are embed at the bottom of this post

That’s why I was so surprised to see that same brand pop into my phone tray, so I thought that I’d take this opportunity to point out exactly how digital advertising can go astray, and how ads can actually be a positive exchange for both sides of the equation.

Let’s first take a look at what makes a good ad as this is something I spend a lot of time thinking about (spoiler: You won’t find this definition in your University textbooks).

Advertising at its core is a social contract between the advertiser and the viewer. In exchange for viewing someone’s ad, you get something of value, whether that’s a cheaper magazine, a lower fare on the subway, or Facebook for free. For the past 50 years we’ve been conditioned to assume that ads have to be annoying or interruptive, effectively disrupting our days to get a message across. That’s because modern ads grew up in environments where they were paying, and we were benefitting (TV ads = cheap TV programming, Newspaper ads = cheap Newspapers, etc.). To me though, we have an opportunity to do more than interrupt, and given all of the options that we now have available, an obligation to make the ads respectful of their audience. The 4 things that are essential to all good ads are:

When you get right down to it, an ad just has to be respectful of its audience and provide some value in exchange for its being viewed. The Samsung ads in question misses 3 out of the 4 points. Let’s take a look at exactly how:

The Ad does interrupts its audience’s experience of using their mobile devices by requiring their action and attention to make it go away. Strike one.

It provides no useful information to anyone who was already aware that Daylight Savings Time exists and is upcoming. I’m sure that there are a lot of useful or entertaining things that Samsung could have offered in that space – a heads up about an upcoming time change seems like an odd choice. Strike Two.

Finally, the viewer has already paid Samsung for his/her phone, and gets no additional benefit from seeing the ad, so it’s not adding anything or reducing costs or barriers for us. We didn’t get a discount on our phones or service for seeing this ad, the way that we do on social networks (free) or on public transit (discounted). Strike three.

When you factor in that the Android app/service that pushes the ad to the users notifications tray comes pre-installed and can’t be uninstalled, it gets more concerning. Big, global brands like Samsung have a responsibility to lead from the front and demonstrate how good advertising can be.

As I mentioned above, they are doing that – they are creating great stuff that people are viewing voluntarily and asking for more of, which makes a pretty strong case for the value of their ads. My hope is that we, the viewers, react more favourably to the good stuff, and don’t accept being interrupted by the bad ones long enough that eventually the advertisers will have no choice but create advertising that adds value.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back regularly – we’ve got lots more thoughts, ideas, and news from around the industry coming every week.