PadSquad brings digital interactivity to CTV ads

PadSquad is bringing digital advertising tactics to the home’s largest screen, leaning on creative experience to help advertisers and brands better engage with viewers through interactivity and new ad formats.

At the start of the year the company inked a deal with Innovid to pull the company’s full suite of interactive connected TV capabilities in-house, enabling the creation and production of CTV shoppable and interactive ad formats in days not weeks.

Started in 2012, PadSquad was first formed with roots in digital as it looked to make mobile and iPad experiences better with strong creative and consumer friendly experiences in those environments. However, the advent of the responsive web design meant PadSquad’s capabilities weren’t really needed anymore, according to Lance Wolder, head of strategy and marketing at PadSquad. Luckily the company pivoted to carve out a new place for itself with compelling creative alongside technology to drive new kinds of engagement for advertisers.

“PadSquad really found this niche in helping advertisers tell the right story with the right creative on the right screen,” Wolder said in an interview with Fierce Video.

That includes the largest screen in the home, as he noted the company wants “to bring that same concept of really immersive and great advertising to the consumers where they are, including the TV.”

So while the bulk of PadSquad’s inventory is currently digital or on mobile, it’s looking to serve advertising to wherever consumers consume content – meaning as more and more inventory becomes digitally accessible, or available programmatically through connected TVs, more ad dollars are also following suit.

In the CTV space, over frequency is still a well-known issue (most people can imagine sitting through a show where they see the same ad six times in an hour), and Wolder thinks consumers are craving something more interactive and interesting to play with, such as a QR code or quiz. The main aim, he said, is to make the ad experience for the consumer better, while also giving the brand the ability to tell their story and influence the audience.

Two points of friction

As to uptake among brands, Wolder said PadSquad is seeing “a ton of interest” in bringing interactivity with things like shoppable carousels and QR codes to creative, while noting many in the industry are facing two similar problems.  

He cited two points of friction in the marketplace: One, where the money’s being spent, which he sees as the biggest – pointing out that in the ad buying space there are TV upfront dollars to be spent, broadcast teams now touching on CTV, as well as digital teams.“It’s really unclear…whose domain is CTV, who’s going to be responsible for that,” he noted in terms of different teams taking the lead. “That part’s still kind of clunky, as an industry we have to figure it out.”

The second has to do with technology, and specifically SDK (software development kit), which is a set of tools that allows programmers to develop apps for a specific platform. He noted every time a vendor is doing interactive ad formats, those environments require a special SDK and infrastructure in place, and as it’s so early in the game “true interactive, remote-based interactions are a little further away.”

“It’s a little bit of a challenge within the industry because the SDK is not rolled out across a number of devices,” he said, adding that people don’t go home with the immediate thought of updating their TV software so it has the latest SDK.

And he believes the ad products and formats that are low effort from a consumer point of view is what will incrementally add value to advertisers, with modes like dynamic messaging and persistent branding.

A creative and tech company

As to whether PadSquad is a creative or tech company, Wolder said it’s a little bit of both. At its heart PadSquad is a media company in that it sells advertising to agency and brands – but the extra value  it brings to the table is creative services and expertise alongside technology that’s all included for free as part of its media offering.

A big part of what the Innovid partnership brings is technology, with full access to its toolkit – enabling the company to offer clients “so much more value” with PadSquad’s creative expertise added on top. Innovid has the same problems as others in terms of SDK in the right places, he noted, but that said, the vendor is able to deliver high quality video experiences that advertisers feel confident both in using them and in measuring their campaigns. Quickness is also a key part of the aim.

Wolder said the partnership is not necessarily about pushing the limits of what’s possible. Instead “let’s use where we know what works, the technology that exists, everybody trusts, and create a partnership where we can deploy campaigns with Innovid faster and more efficiently than [advertisers] could if they went to Innovid directly,” he said. 

With Innovid, PadSquad can launch campaigns in seven to 10 days, with Wolder citing one recent campaign that launched in just 72 hours – as opposed to the typical standard of three to six weeks.   

Changing consumer behavior  

For interactive and shoppable TV ads to really catch on, one thing that needs to happen is a consumer behavior shift, something Wolder sees taking place over the long term.

Some of that is already happening, albeit in the early stages. He noted that one positive that came out of the Covid pandemic is that average consumers finally became comfortable with QR codes – a tech that has been around for several years but hadn’t really gained much traction.

A recent study from Aluma Insights also shed light on how consumers are starting to engage with shoppable TV. Aluma found that half of online adults recall seeing shoppable ads on TV. Of those, 39% have engaged a shoppable TV ad, and 70% of which purchased a featured product either then or at a later time.  Although the report noted that engagement with shoppable ads on social media is significantly higher than shoppable TV ads (61% versus 40%, respectively) – the percentage of engagers that purchased a feature product is higher among those interacting with shoppable TV ads than similar social video ads (70% vs. 60%, respectively).

“While this is not a true ad conversion rate, which measures the buy rate of a specific product featured in a specific ad, it is nonetheless true that a large part of adults that do engage shoppable TV ads are positively impacted by them,” said Doug Montgomery, an Aluma senior analyst.

As for Wolder, he sees the industry taking small steps with things like dynamic messaging and persistent branding, or QR codes that lead to a landing page, as a way for consumers to get more comfortable using their TV remote to interact, as well as brands becoming comfortable developing unique experiences.

“I think it’s getting people used to seeing new and different ad formats, ad experiences, on the TV, is really going to help consumers lean in the way they do now on their phone,” he said. “You wouldn’t think twice about tapping a social media ad to see what’s on the landing page.” Whereas in a TV environment, consumers might still be worried that interacting will be a heavy lift or could interrupt their viewing experience.

And a Roku study recently found that viewers do crave more entertaining and informative streaming ads, including through new formats. Roku itself has been experimenting with new ad formats, including shoppable TV under a partnership with Walmart and a new DoorDash deal that employs QR codes for food delivery and perks. NBCUniversal is also working to bring shoppable TV to Peacock this year with integration of its NBCU Checkout platform, and has tested out formats like in-scene ads.   

So while Wolder believes it’s a longer road to get to “some of the coolest stuff” with a remote control in the living room, he thinks there are baby steps the industry can take on the digital side. To that end, he pointed to in-stream video within digital using the exact same assets – so taking a broadcast spot delivered in the living room, but use it in digital as a way to experiment with interactivity, enabling PadSquad to learn the best way to utilize a format.

“Our bet is interactive video within digital is a really great way for us to continue to learn what consumers want and how they want to consumer content,” he said. “And then we just port that stuff over to connected TV as people become more comfortable.”

So PadSquad can do a creative campaign for a brand that is thinking across TV, desktop and mobile, and make buys across screens with a creative team that manages media buying.

Going deeper than impression

When it comes to traditional TV ad metrics, top of mind is usually impression, delivery and reach. However, once brands start to incorporate engagement-based creative or ads that have elements like QR codes it enables advertisers to start to add in a new slew of metrics such as engagement time and interactivity.

“You start to add all these other layers into how you can analyze whether consumers [are] actually paying attention or they’re engaged and care what’s going on,” Wolder said of advertisers.  

QR codes are a really good version to get to that he said, but there are also other opportunities. For example, watching a car commercial that piques a viewer’s interest followed by a QR prompt for a second screen experience that takes them to an immersive 360-degree tour of the car interior on their mobile device. Another example could be taking a quiz to see which Marriott destination one should go to for a vacation.

“You have all of these things that can happen off of that broadcast commercial, that are deeper than just that impression,” he noted. “And I think that’s the stuff that becomes really interesting because you can think about that brand experience in a new way and measure it with all new metrics.”

Similar to digital, CTV also enables the ability to follow a consumer through their journey and the funnel. Meaning maybe they’re not hit with a QR code prompt for the first commercial, but on the second or third spot a coupon code appears, say for a Clorox cleaning supply, and the QR code allows users to scan and put it in their Target cart.

And while Wolder has strong expectations for shoppable and interactive TV – it doesn’t mean interactivity is always the right fit, saying it’s all about putting yourself in the consumer's shoes and knowing when to have some restraint.  

As technologists and marketers, “you have to connect through something that’s an emotion, need or want, to get somebody to actually want to interact. So just because I can have a product carousel doesn’t mean I should,” Wolder said.