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Ad Tech Alone Is Not Advertising: PadSquad Puts The Creative In Mobile Ads

Mobile advertising has become an alternative universe of sorts, one where creativity is secondary to data and the ability to stalk a consumer from site to site has become far more important than what a brand might actually say to them once they’d snared them.

Whether due to laziness or a sincere belief that not much could be done with the space, creative agencies seem to have all but abandoned the mobile web, trotting out “matching luggage” banners (banners that matched the TV or print campaign) in boring-ass formats users were sure to ignore.

There’s one upstart, however, that’s looking to put a stop to that. PadSquad, a mobile agency/production company founded by Daniel Meehan, has been creating new and innovative ad units for mobile. And because they’ve been so successful, other agencies started paying homage to PadSquad, copying their units and creative ideas.

“I never understood why mobile advertising was so boring,” notes Meehan. “You’ve got a supercomputer in your pocket, there’s so many incredible things you can do with it. Why resort to a stupid little rectangle with a logo and an image?”

One of PadSquad’s recent campaigns for Timberland plays off the flexibility of the shoes. The ad shows a man in a pair of Timberlands walking on a transparent background with the Timberland logo and the word “flexibility” below. As he walks, the text from the accompanying editorial on the mobile web page scrolls down, to the rhythm of the character’s footsteps. You can speed him up or slow him down, which is a great way to demonstrate the brand’s flexibility.


Timberland is just one of the major clients who have engaged PadSquad, which is rolling out a new suite of creative units this week. Brands like Intel, Verizon, The Home Depot, L’Oréal, Cover Girl, PepsiCo, and Best Buy have all stopped in for some of that PadSquad magic.

The pitch is pretty simple: go with a “stupid rectangle” and you’re more or less giving people a reason to install ad blockers. In an industry that’s enamored with data (and not much else) no ad is too banal—or too intrusive—for traditional agencies. PadSquad—and other creative agencies—give consumers a reason to actually engage with the ad, and for brands who realize that humans are more valuable than data points, that’s worth something.

It’s always baffled me why advertisers think that people might react favorably to any of the egregiously annoying ads that foul up the mobile web. An ad unit that follows them around on the page like a lost puppy, for instance. Or one that expands into video and starts autoplaying on rollover. But they do, and it’s why so many users are addicted to Adblock Plus and similar software: the experience is just too painful without it.

“You need to engage people,” says Meehan, whose philosophy towards advertising was shaped by his father, who ran a series on small magazines during Meehan’s childhood. “It is always about being polite to them, and to be respectful, which you prove by being engaging. We try and be innovative on the front and back ends—with our tech and with our creative product. That’s what helps our clients stand out.”

While mobile isn’t the only area where better creative is needed—interruptive advertising on TV, pharma advertising in particular, might as well be a commercial for ad-free services like Netflix—mobile is by far the area where it is needed most. Brands are getting wise to the fact that no matter how carefully they track consumers, no matter how much data they collect about them and their usage patterns, no matter how much they rely on header bidding and other feats of algorithmic derring do, none of it matters if consumers never see the ad. And when they actively avoid the ad and harbor negative feelings towards the brand that stalked them around the mobile web and served them yet another boring irrelevant ad in several locations, that’s not just bad strategy, that’s counterproductive.

Not to mention very good news for PadSquad and others who are trying to improve the ad experience on the mobile web by making it more creative.

(and for more on my chat with Daniel, check out the audio below)