Online Ads Suck! Steelhouse Unveils A2 Platform to Simplify Rich Media Ad Creation, Save an Industry

By Michael Carney , written on September 24, 2012

From The News Desk

For all the promise that online advertising offers, the actual ad-units available to deliver brand messages leave much to be desired.

“Internet ads are stuck in a static ad time warp surrounded by an immersive, interactive world of video, mobile, apps, and social tools,” says Mark Douglas, president and CEO of online behavioral advertising company Steelhouse. “Consumers ignore online ads because they fail to keep up with other media competing for their attention”

Today, Steelhouse has unveiled its A2 ad-creation platform (pronounced a-squared), to dramatically simplify delivery of the type of visually-stunning, interactive rich media ads that do work, but traditionally have been too expensive and time consuming to create. Even better, A2 ads are IAB compliant and work on any browser and on any device, including PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.

A2 brings the full complement of rich media to those creating online ads, without requiring any of the programming skills previously associated with the process. Through the platform’s wiziwig interface, agencies and brands can combine creative assets from TV, Web video, social media, and apps. The ads can contain multiple scene transitions and countdown timers based on when a promotion will end.

Because Steelhouse earned its reputation in the ecommerce space, its ads support a number of features well suited to this industry. The platform includes a dynamic product carousel, highlighting products the consumer has interacted with elsewhere on the Web. The ads also support location awareness, meaning ads can geo-target consumers such as when they’re in the neighborhood of a physical store.

Not only does A2 simplify the process of creating rich media ads, but it reduces the cost by a factor of 100. Douglas says that the typical A2 ad would take six weeks and cost $10,000 to create traditionally. With the Steelhouse platform, it costs only $100 and can be completed in less than a day. The ad-tech company even employs an in-house design team that client companies can use where necessary to turn out creative content.

According to Douglas, these types of rich media ads result in up to 600 percent higher clickthrough rates than traditional display advertising. “That’s what you want. You want ads where you can express emotion, where people can respond to it, but without all this programming that has been such an obstacle to creating those types of ads in the past,” the CEO said in a promotional video for the platform. “It’s like, now I can just create what I want, and I’m not sitting here hiring programmers and struggling with the platform. They focus on the creative portion. We make it work technically.”

Whereas many of these features would take thousands of lines of code and weeks to develop traditionally, Steelhouse has built them into its A2 backend, meaning they can be created in a just a few hours. The process is so simple that the company has been making full-featured ads for each of its client pitch meetings over the last few weeks – something unheard of for rich-media ads. Not surprisingly, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

A2 counts as clients Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Toms Shoes, among others. For one of those others, a major US professional sports league, the company created ads that display video highlights from last night’s games, a first for the content-protective league. Just a month after deploying its A2, another client, North Face, found the ads to be the third most-clicked area of its homepage, after the links to “Men’s” and “Women’s”.

For a major European mobile carrier, A2 came to the rescue ahead of last week’s iPhone 5 launch. The carrier had created a series of Flash-based ads to advertise the new uber-smartphone. Apple flatly rejected the ads based on the fact that they wouldn’t play on the device they’re meant to advertise. In a matter of hours, Steelhouse created far more interactive and compelling replacement ads using A2, which were subsequently approved by what Douglas described as a shocked Apple.

A2 is available as a stand-alone product, or can be combined with the existing ad-targeting and Real Time Offers products that Steelhouse is known for. The company is currently testing various price points for the display ad creation solution, but like with its existing products, the prices will be CMP-based, rather than SaaS. In the case of A2, Douglas says the rates will be tens of dollars, not ones.

Los Angeles-based Steelhouse has raised $15.8 million in outside financing, including $8.25 million from Qualcomm Ventures, Greycroft Partners, Baroda Ventures, Rincon Venture Partners, SV Angel, and Daher Capital in July of this year. Steelhouse is creeping up on 100 employees, making it one of the largest LA startups outside the ecommerce sector, and recently opened its first international office in London. The ad:tech Innovation Award winning company is making quite a name for itself in industry, and today's product release suggests it has no intentions on slowing down.

Douglas has picked up on a recent shift in the attitude of brands, with many for the first time saying, “If we’re going to spend all these dollars online, we’re going to need the ad to live up to that.” A2 was designed to deliver exactly what they wanted but didn't know was possible.

Now, he says, “Steelhouse is becoming a bit like an arms dealer. Most companies are fighting with BB guns, and I’m showing them an Uzi. If your competitor has A2 and you don’t, how are you going to win?”