Media Evolved

Flipboard's Josh Quittner: Advertisers Need to Step Up Their Game to Work With Us

Company Fighting 'War of Good Taste' for Digital Advertising

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Josh Quittner spent 26 years working for traditional publications, from Fortune to Business 2.0. And now as editorial director of Flipboard, the iPad app that curates content from user's social feeds into a digital magazine-style experience, Mr. Quittner is adamant about not losing the beauty of print advertising in the transition to digital.

Flipboard's Josh Quittner speaks at Ad Age 's Media Evolved Conference Nov. 15
Flipboard's Josh Quittner speaks at Ad Age 's Media Evolved Conference Nov. 15

Speaking this morning at Ad Age 's Media Evolved conference in New York, Mr. Quittner bemoaned what digital advertising was before the advent of tablets.

"I used to think [digital] advertising didn't work at all," he said. "At best, it's forgettable … at worst, it's really annoying."

Now, at Flipboard, which Mr. Quittner said has nearly 4 million downloads, his team is determined to push advertisers to step up their game. As such, he admitted that Flipboard does turn away advertisements that "are ugly, or distasteful or not keeping with the general tone or spirit of our community." Flipboard then works with its partner publications and advertisers to innovate and produce a better advertising experience.

"We have pushed back a bunch," he added. "We really believe in the sacrosanct nature of the page, the beauty of the page."

It's a tricky balancing act considering that Flipboard's media partners -- not the Flipboard team itself -- sell advertising. And Flipboard makes money by taking a cut of its media partners' advertising sales.

"The war we're trying to fight is the war of good taste," he said. "We just don't want a bad experience."

Though he said he couldn't talk about specific products in the works, Mr. Quittner said Flipboard is experimenting with different advertising products that would take advantage of the strengths of both print and digital. He gave one example of an ad experience he envisions that would appear between page flips of a digital version of a magazine on Flipboard. The ad itself would look like the cover of another magazine.

"You touch the cover, and it spawns this beautiful magazine within this magazine," he said.

In this way, the advertisement itself would be content that the user wants to consume.

Similarly, Mr. Quittner thinks advertisers can take the same content-creation model to video advertising, producing advertisements that are relevant, original programming more than a direct call to interact with the brand's product or service.

"I think as we start to understand more about who's consuming our content," he said, "it should be easier to deliver more relevant video advertising."

In the end, Mr. Quittner doesn't believe in simply reimagining the print ad experience on a digital screen. Rather, he hopes the future will see a marrying of the print and digital worlds.

He envisions a time in the not-so-distant future in which advertisers will "take the best of that relevant magazine advertising and marry it to the metrics of really good web advertising."

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