Why Native Can Make Smart Watch Ads Work

The smart watch market is a growing opportunity that mobile marketers and developers should be looking to tap and there’s great potential for smart watch ads. Although sales of the Apple Watch, the device expected to break the market open, have disappointed some analysts, it’s worth remembering that the watch is expected to have outsold all sales of its Android Wear rivals on the first day of launch – suggesting there is real room for growth in the wearable sector.

So with rumours that a new Apple Watch will arrive next year to help users tap into a new wave of apps empowered by Apple’s new Watch SDK, now is the time to think about how smart watches can help your app. And that includes thinking about the role of advertising in the smart watch eco-system.

The problem with traditional ad formats

The immediate question that you’ll be asking as you read this will be something along the lines of “is advertising really possible on smart watches?” And there are some understandable reasons to be sceptical about how traditional ad formats will ever be suitable for a smart watch.

First, the screen size of a smart watch rules out a lot of room for inventiveness with copy. One of the largest wearable displays on the market currently is the Samsung Gear 2, with 1.63×1.63 inches of display space. It’s hardly big enough to cram a banner in and it offers little room to create an interesting interstitial. And outside of video calling, can you imagine someone sitting down to watch an advertising video on a smart watch? Probably not.

Second, and more importantly, adverts on smart watches have the potential to annoy users more because of the way wearables are used. To understand this quickly, the easiest thing to do is grab yourself a basic wrist watch and use it to tell the time for a couple of days. What you’ll realise is that the information on the watch can, of course, be found elsewhere, but you’ll realise a quick flick of a wrist will allow you to know the time in a fraction of a second.

Wearables, at the lowest tech level, are about delivering essential information in an easily digestible form and allowing you to respond to it instantaneously. Therefore, you don’t want to be disrupted by information that is a) non-essential and b) not relevant to you.

That is likely to pose a big problem for marketers and developers alike. On the one hand, improvements to ad targeting still hasn’t eradicated the problem of ad relevance. Users still see mobile adverts that don’t appeal to them on platforms as effective as Facebook, let alone the SDKs most ad networks use.

And on the other, meeting the essential qualification is very difficult for wearable apps to do – let alone advertising. Following the launch of the Apple Watch, the New York Times released a piece complaining about how annoying and disruptive Apple Watch notifications were for apps the user regularly opened. Imagine what an obtrusive advert would do for a user glancing at their watch or having their day interrupted and you’ll get an idea of the barriers to advertising on smart watches

Adapting to the new smart watch reality

However, there is reason to be optimistic that advertising can work on smart watches. And a lot of it comes from the fact that people simply aren’t used to this new device category yet.

If you look at the major problems out lined above, namely things like canvas size and notification nightmares, there is one big issue causing all of the problems so far: marketers and developers have not adapted to smart watches properly yet.

This is totally understandable. As a new product category that confuses consumers as much as developers, it is understandable that defining the role of wearables in mobile, or adapting to the new rules that govern their usage, is proving tricky for developers.

But the principles of offering users instantly relevant experiences and important information digestible in the time it takes to flick a wrist has helped to produce some early smart watch success stories.

Apple understandably leads the way in creating great wearable experiences. With full access to the watch’s technology, Apple Pay and Passbook have proven to be excellent wearable experiences. However, other companies are also chipping in.

The makers of Zombies! Run, a location based running game, are using the Apple Watch to inform players of nearby supply caches or of imminent zombie death. Meanwhile, to do list app Clear allows you to easily manage your daily tasks without cluttering the watch screen or forcing you to reach for the phone.

Native – saving smart watch advertising

In short, developers are improving the smart watch experience by changing their mindset to create experiences that work within the wearable context. And advertisers can do that too by ensuring they create experiences that are native to smart watches.

What would that entail though? We’d argue that there are three main things you need to consider when thinking about native smart watch ads.


The first is to accept the fundamental differences between a watch and a mobile device. Shoe horning a mobile advertising experience into a smart watch isn’t ever going to work, so you’ll need to find a brand new way to create an experience that is personalised to fit a smart watch. Native is all about fitting the context and the wearable context is hugely different to the mobile context; accepting that is essential for success.

The second is to adapt to the new technology at hand to help craft personalised native experiences. Smart watches are limited in what they can offer alone, but the clue in how to use them comes from the Watch Kit SDK.

The description of watch apps as “extensions” should act as a guide on how to create relevant native adverts. By using the in built health and GPS technology in most smart watches in conjunction with a personalised mobile app, you can work out what users want on their smartphones and target them at moments when the smart watch helps you to deem appropriate. A runner may be grateful to know where the nearest place to buy water is after a particularly gruelling run, after all.

But you should bear in mind the most important principle for native smart watch ads, which is the keen focus on offering users essential and relevant information. While targeting adverts to users is the norm in mobile, the relevance factor for smart watches means that anything that jars with the user experience is particularly annoying.

Would you want an advert flashing on your wrist in the middle of a business meeting for a sale that, while interesting, is going on during work hours? Chances are you wouldn’t, and you need to consider that when advertising to users.

So there is an opportunity for advertising to work on smart watches, which is why we’ve come up with our own native solution to help you do all of the above. As part of our work with ING Di-Ba, we created a tool for creating your own user friendly and wearable ready native advertising that doesn’t require an SDK or an API to work.

But however you end up creating your wearable native advertising, it’s worth remembering why you need to go in that direction to succeed. Only by crafting truly native advertising experiences for wearables can advertisers hope to succeed on a platform which demands more relevance and personalisation than any preceding it.

And though that might be difficult, it could also prove very valuable in the long run too.

Leave a Comment

Sign in to post your comment or sign-up if you don't have any account.

Other posts you may like