Not so long ago Apple introduced iAd as a serious attempt to shake up traditional Net advertising on its iDevices—it was deeply integrated into the iPhone and iPad OS, and offered rich media interactivity as a hook to snag yet more customer engagment. But it hasn't necessarily solved all the problems of audience engagement, and we're all accustomed to not really paying attention to ads, no matter how clever they are. Enter SessionM.
It's technically some smart HTML5 routines that customers can insert into their apps to turbo-power the quality of built-in advertising. Just like iAd there's an emphasis on rich media and "immersive media." But far from simple pop-up banners that you're probaby used to or even the interactivity of iAds, SessionM injects a whole bunch of game mechanics into adverts. By playing along, you can "unlock achievements tied to activities and engagement milestones such as visiting regularly, exploring content, performing specific activities, and being social" and you can "level up and gain status within the apps while collecting points for their achievements." Sounds clever, and if the game aspect is well designed and engaging, then it's easy to imagine many ad viewers playing along, at least for a while.
But SessionM has a bigger hook: Those points you earn can be "redeemed in a mobile storefront for real-world rewards, including eGift cards and exclusive deals and discounts on mobile purchases." Meaning you can actually profit by engaging in a game that lets a brand bandy its message in front of your eyes for a little longer than you may otherwise have felt comfortable with. If that's ethically sticky for you, SessionM's system even has provision to let you donate to charities, spending your hard-earned ad-watching payment for the public good.
Lars Albright, CEO and cofounder of SessionM, explained to Fast Company where the idea came from: "I had the benefit of being a part of some really successful businesses in this industry before moving on to Apple to work on iAd. I'm excited about the progress that has been made in the industry, and I think a very strong foundation has been built for mobile innovation. Mobile growth is huge right now, but there are some real challenges for developers and advertisers. I saw an opportunity to address these challenges in a fresh, exciting way within the context of a new business."
According to Albright, there's a massive opportunity here for "solving big problems like engagement and monetization, and taking the mobile app economy to the next level." iAd forged ahead, bringing the industry forward, Albright argues, but while "Session M is definitely a form of 'smart advertising' [like iAd] it's based on the notions of engagement and game mechanics integrated into mobile commerce."
Meanwhile, SessionM has secured some seriously big pre-release customers on the scale of Viacom Media Digital Networks, The Weather Channel, Demand Media, Fox Sports and Glam Media with ads coming from the likes of Honda, Tyson Foods and Volvo.
Innovative as it all is it's also a slightly scary sign for the average consumer: As we're all getting used to owning smartphones, the ad world has lasered in on this fact, and has worked out that it can leverage all the clever tech that makes smartphones so handy to make its advertising even more prominent. But like quietly waiting for the ad segment in your favorite show to end so you can get back to the pitched drama of CSI, (and thus exposing yourself to a handful of brand messages), the odds are that with systems like SessionM you will end up playing along.
[Image: Flickr user Victor Bezrukov]