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Brilliant Native Advertising on the Cover of Print Magazine

Print Magazine fish cover

I spotted this in illustrator Wendy MacNaughton’s Instagram feed.

MacNaughton painted the cover art for a recent issue of Print Magazine: A big fish being held by a somewhat smaller fisherman. The cover includes the standard utilitarian elements of a newsstand magazine — the magazine’s title, the issue date, cover lines that tell you about articles inside — but most of the cover’s real estate is given over to MacNaughton’s artwork. It’s the art (or photography), after all, that draws our attention to a particular issue of a magazine. You might say art (or photography) is the native language of magazine covers.

If you’re an advertiser that pays a premium to place your ad on the back cover, then, you would be well advised to do whatever you can make your ad’s creative design as awesome as the artwork on the front cover.

Print Magazine with fish on cover

Or, in the case Shutterstock, the back-cover advertiser for this issue of Print, you might just let the artwork from the front cover spill right into your ad. Then, anyone who wants to enjoy the full Wendy MacNaughton fish illustration needs to open the magazine, turn it face down, and view at the front and back covers — including the Shutterstock message behind the fish’s tail — at the same time.

As the artist herself puts it, “bonus: we got the advertising to support the art. high five, print mag.”

Facebook Ads, Now With Better Photos

Yesterday Facebook announced on its blog a new deal with Shutterstock that will give its advertisers access to millions of stock photos for use in Facebook ads. If that means I’ll never see Larry Ellison’s mug on my wall again, that would be fantastic.

Facebook Ads

The real issue Facebook wants to solve is advertiser performance. As Lauren Hockenson puts it in her GigaOM post:

We all dislike ads on (the right hand side of) our Facebook pages. Some of that dislike comes from them being just plain ugly and poorly retargeted. It is hardly a surprise that the click-through rates on these low-cost ads are abysmal. A study by AdRoll last year showed that traditional ad-retargeting nabs 40% more clicks than a Facebook ad.

If the Shutterstock deal leads to more visually inviting ads and Facebook users look at them and click on them more frequently, advertisers (and Facebook shareholders) will be thrilled.

Such a smart idea that you could almost call it obvious. Back in March, Facebook redesigned its News Feed to present larger photos, because, according to Facebook executives, 50% of News Feed posts are photos (March 2013), up from 20% a year earlier (November 2011). An acknowledgement, in other words, that photos are the universal language of Facebook. Maybe I’m asking too much to expect Facebook to give a photo-facelift to their ad products simultaneously with a similar upgrade other user features on the site. Maybe they need to stagger changes of this magnitude, and improving the ad products only a half a year after upgrading the News Feed is pretty good.

But I can’t help reading something larger into this. Part of the reason online ads stink — annoying consumers and disappointing advertisers — is that digital media companies treat advertising as an after-thought. The prevailing wisdom is: Launch the product, iterated until it’s awesome, and then build a giant audience. If all of that goes as planned, you can tack on some ads later. How do ads stand a chance of working (for consumers or for brands) if, on they day they launch, we already hate them simply because they’ve stolen pixels that yesterday were used to delight us with content or service that made the product awesome?