File-sharing service WeTransfer works like YouSendIt — you upload a giant file to the cloud, and the person you want to share it with is emailed a link to the download page — except that WeTransfer serves the downloader really pretty ads in the background while you wait. I hadn’t heard of the company until I read about them on NOTCOT, where Jean Aw reported to loving the ads:
“I have a mesmerizing user-experience crush on WeTransfer right now. If I’m going to have to wait for ages to download files — it might as well be fun. There is an awesomely playful and elegant experience when I land on WeTransfer, and I actually love watching it download and excitedly await the next AD coming up.”
Wow. It’s not every day you hear a leading design blogger gushing about online ads.
The ads are definitely pretty: Full-screen wallpaper units in high resolution, like beautiful magazine ads brought to a website. But that won’t be enough for WeTransfer to ring the advertising cash register in a big way. Current advertisers in rotation include TW Steel Watches, the Nalden application for the iPad, Resource Magazine, and Lady Gaga. Premium “channels” exist for Heinz and Ducati. With the exception of Heinz, that list doesn’t exactly read like the Who’s Who of Deep-Pocketed Brand Advertisers.
Beautiful (or entertaining or engaging) is one part of the formula that adds up to media revenue. To succeed as an ad-supported business, though, they’ll also need to figure out scale and targeting. There may be a path to targeting — matching ad campaigns with receptive audiences. Serving, say, Ducati ads to hip, adventurous guys in their 20s and 30s, and Heinz ads to moms with kids. (I’m guessing they’ll have a tougher time associating ads with content being shared, since that means they’d need to snoop inside the files their customers are sharing.)
I’m struggling, however, with how they build a large enough audience of customers using their service such that taking the 3% who are hip, adventurous guys in their 20s and 30s, dividing that number by 1000 and then multiplying by Ducati’s rate per thousand impressions (CPM) would add up to real money. I’m guessing the pool of prospective WeTransfer customers is comprised mostly of sales reps and PR folks.
But maybe they’ve created a tasteful and lucrative advertising model for a business like Dropbox. If Dropbox has mainstream success — convincing tens of millions of us to rent space in their cloud instead of storing stuff on our local harddrives — and if they add features that make it easy for us to share access to individual files inside our Dropboxes by emailing a URL to a friend (Update: A reader points out they already do! Who knew?!), they may find themselves with a highly-scaled population of people watching a “file is downloading” screen as they await movies, music, high-res photos to travel from the cloud to their iPads. Just as Overture dreamed up paid-search advertising only to see Google steal the market from them, maybe Dropbox will lift a page from the WeTranser playbook.