“Toronto Star’s Ad Lab for digital advertising innovation” - Kate Collins at #TAS12

 by Martin Belam, 8 November 2012

I recently spoke at WAN-IFRA’s Tablet & App Summit, which formed part of the World Publishing Expo in Frankfurt. You can download all of my notes from the day in an ebook for iBooks, for Kindle or as a PDF.

“Toronto Star’s Ad Lab for digital advertising innovation” - Kate Collins

“Saying no to ideas is just as important as saying yes to ideas.” - Kate Collins

Kate Collins is Managing Director, Emerging Platforms & Products at Star Media Group in Canada, and she was presenting a case study of some innovative work they’ve done in collaboration with advertisers, exploring how advertising might work in the future in the tablet edition of the Toronto Star.

30% of their traffic now comes from some kind of mobile device, although Kate conceded that the money wasn’t quite “following the eyeballs” yet. She talked about an earlier attempt to get a tablet product up and running for the Star, which they invested a lot of money in. However, as the project progressed, they realised there were a lot of unanswered questions about the production and workflow. They decided to take a step back and address just one challenge first, namely “is there a business model in this at all?”

The solution they came up with was to a have single monthly sponsor of their tablet optimised experience. Having just the one deal simplifies a lot of the business considerations around selling ad space. Kate recounted that actually, when they had first been trying to get ad agencies interested in booking space on a tablet, she’d sometimes had to end up lending the potential client her own tablet for a week to show them what it was all about, because at that point take-up of the devices was only amongst early adopters.

She had a great one-liner about dealing with advertising agencies looking to run innovative campaigns:

“Everyone wants ‘never been done before’, but no one wants to go first.”

Realising that they had an issue trying to develop great ad campaigns on tablet, they formed an “Ad lab”. They co-fund campaigns with an ad agency and a client, and try and work out what they can do that is different from simply putting digital display ads onto a smaller screen. Some of the “proof of concept” style campaigns she showed included an ad which transformed into a mini-game, and an interactive game of roulette designed to sell auto recovery services specifically to women.

Christian Röpke, Managing Director of Zeit Online, asked how this approach scaled — it seemed like a lot of effort to put into individual campaigns. Kate said that they could only work on between three to ten of these a year, but that the campaign itself isn’t really the main outcome. They are judging themselves on whether they get good data, a good case study, and better relationships with ad agencies and clients. She said that when you start this process, your conversation with a chief marketing officer shifts from being about whether they are going to place some ads, to be being about what the Toronto Star can do to help solve their business problems. It is an entirely different conversation, one that was only enabled by having the tablet option on the table.

The tablet edition had also had a beneficial reputation effect with readers. They’d had people phone up the newsroom to express surprise that the Toronto Star could have done something so innovative. User engagement with the product is high, Kate explained, telling us that the average number of page views per unique user was seven to ten times higher than the engagement levels on other platforms.


My final set of notes from the WAN-IFRA Tablet and app summit will be a write-up of the talk by Alexandra Hardiman of the New York Times, discussing their approach to mobile publishing.

This is one of a series of blog posts about the WAN-IFRA Tablet & App Summit at the World Publishing Expo in Frankfurt. You can download all of my notes from the day in a free ebook for iBooks, for Kindle or as a PDF.

“The UX of publishing for tablets and smartphones” - Martin Belam
“Taking Stern magazine to the iPad” - David Heimburger
“Condé Nast place value in digital reach over digital sales” - Jamie Jouning & Jamie Bell
“Behind the curve - the media and the new App economy” - Stijn Schuermans
“Brazil’s newspapers close ranks against Google and Apple” - Caio Túlio Costa
“Launching ePresse to challenge Apple and Amazon in France” - Philippe Jannet
“Optimising the FT using HTML5 and customer data” - Stephen Pinches
“Windows 8: Opportunities for publishers” - Frank Wolfram & Johan Mortelmans
“Toronto Star’s Ad Lab for digital advertising innovation” - Kate Collins

Keep up to date on my new blog