Why MacGyver is to blame for the lack of mobile ad formats

In this guest post Rob Hall argues new and better mobile ad units won’t appear while people are willing to make do and mend with the current ones. 

Those of us who grew up watching MacGyver were in awe of this Vietnam vet/trained scientist/bomb disposal expert who could solve the most challenging problems with the help of only a Swiss army knife and what in retrospect was a pretty decent mullet.

What does his method boil down to? Resourcefulness. It’s a good skill to have.


Real life applications of this resourcefulness are aplenty. In fact, it’s even sometimes known as ‘MacGyvering’.

You can MacGyver a bottle of wine open with your shoe; MacGyver a perfectly cooked shish-kebab with your iron; or MacGyver water bottles as thongs when you lose your Havaianas (looking forward to trying this one).

Rob Hall

Rob Hall

So, what does MacGyver and his resourcefulness have to do with mobile ad formats or the lack thereof?

Well, think about a designer and/or developer who has to make an ad for mobile. For the most part, they’re given horribly limited choices on what they can do (“do you want a 320×50 Banner, a 300×250 MREC or an OTP?”).

So far what these clever people have done is MacGyver all their resourcefulness inside these rigid ‘boxes’. Borrowing our methods from the man himself we’ve found a resourceful way to turn the same old MREC format into lots of things: ‘The Product Carousel’, ‘The Streaming Video Unit’ and ‘The Interactive-Shake-And-Tilt-Your-Phone-To-Do-Some-Type-Of-Interaction-Thingy’. He would be proud.

Not seeing the problem just yet? Consider that we almost always use the same ad formats (320×50 and 300×250 MREC banners) for both Brand AND Performance campaigns, often at the same time. On desktop, there’s a lot of choice. On mobile, we’re left to re-purpose the same old ad formats over and over. Either that, or we just do the cool thing after we’ve clicked, hitting (if you’re lucky) 0.5% of users who get that far.

So has this ‘get the job done with what’s at hand’ type mentality had an unintended negative side effect? Perhaps so.

We’re often just making do with what we’re given. Yes, technically speaking I guess by turning this into slightly new things we’re ‘innovating’ — but it’s within a set of specified ad formats that we’ve inherited mostly from desktop and that in itself holds back creativity.

We should have been further along the road to change than we are now. Sure we’ve kind of found a way around it, but is it enough?

So maybe this very resourcefulness is artificially holding back the development of mobile ad formats.

Have we accidentally propped up an ecosystem that should have otherwise been forced to evolve?

The time has come for a Cambrian-eqsue explosion of change and diversity on the actual mobile ad formats themselves.

We should be giving designers, developers, creatives and planners a much greater initial suite of ad products to choose from.

We need to bring creativity forward, into publishing environments, not hidden after the click on a branded mobile site or app.

We should all be on a mission to unlock creativity through the development of a whole new range of ad formats, delivered at scale, accompanied by the most flexible tools possible.

So, if you’re involved in the mobile advertising ecosystem and, like MacGyver, you’re making do with what’s at hand, that’s great. But maybe it’s time to start asking and expecting more choice to begin with.

You will still need to use your Swiss army knife, but there should be many more ways in which you can use it. The mullets remain optional.

  • Rob Hall is CEO of Playground XYZ

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