Stop killing my flow: why disruptive ads are a dying breed

By Paps Shaikh

Until now the primary way that online ads exist has remained fairly static, ever since they first burst onto our screens in the 90s. The humble banner ad evolved to incorporate video and various calls to action, yet we’ve remained confined by a set of formats that feel idiosyncratic in this new, multi-device world that we live in. The ad has been considered an invasive, extra layer of ‘content’ tacked on top of whatever editorial is sitting on the page. It’s perhaps surprising to think that considering how quickly digital as an industry has evolved in the past ten years, at how relatively primitive digital advertising has remained in comparison

High impact screen takeovers are often seen as equally irritating by the consumer – so bombarded are we now with online messages that advertising this disruptive has quite simply become an annoyance that many of us automatically bat away. No consumer wants the screen to collapse into an ad when they’re half way through a piece of editorial! Increasingly though, disruptive ads are not only irritatingly swept aside by consumers – they often appear, to the trained eye at least, to be little more than attempts to cover up poor creative. Don’t do this to your brand!

But now a new, exciting era is beginning to emerge in the digital advertising space. Ads are starting to exist more naturally alongside editorial content, moving out of their standardised boxes. At Say Media we recently debuted a brand new ad experience on ReadWrite, one of our key tech properties. It’s the first site to ever feature Adaptive Ads, which are responsive designs that exist within the flow of content.

The future of online advertising is ads that exist in a very natural state next to the content. Like flipping the page in a print magazine, they become a part of the reading experience, adapting to mouse or touch controls to feel native to whichever device they’re experienced on. In this way ads become content in their own right and automatically webpage appears cleaner, thus delivering a more aesthetically pleasing experience for the user.

In digital, we are increasingly taking our cues from print magazine when it comes to the placing of ads on the webpage. When we read magazines we indulge in a linear experience. Ads flow naturally alongside content and somehow feel more personal – yet we can flick past them if we want to. And if an ad is great then generally we take the time to immerse ourselves in it. In July’s edition of Vanity Fair, Rolex ran a stunning 16-page ad featuring various icons wearing its pieces. The ad was clean, simple, and had flow to it. Its placement within the magazine had been carefully thought about. One peer who had seen the ad said impact actually rendered her speechless.

When content and advertising co-exist like this, it allows for the design to go in interesting directions. On ReadWrite and with Adaptive Ads, we’ve reduced the amount of interface you see on screen. We embrace scrolling, instead of working around it. Less competition for the user’s attention means that content can take centre stage. The mythical “above the fold” area in your browser is no longer the only thing that matters.

Adaptive Ads are a bold experiment and we hope they will inspire others to start thinking beyond the banner. For us, this is also a way to infuse some magic into the content experience – to not only bring back some of the beauty of print but truly create something that feels digitally native. To an extent of course, all advertising is by its very nature disruptive, but to date, we know that the majority of online consumers do not welcome the distractions on offer. This much more intuitive and sensitive way of enticing the user to immerse themselves in the brand experience could just be the way in which to regain the trust that years of static and the more recent disruptive forms of advertising have eroded.

About the author

Paps Shaikh is the European General Manager of Say Media and leads an experienced team to help connect the world’s leading brands with passionate, engaged audiences. His career has focussed on taking new digital products to market and in the process delivering revenue and customers within the UK and Europe. Previously Paps was Say Media’s Commercial Director (he was promoted to the role of European General Manager in April 2013)

Most recently Paps was VP of Advertising a AdJug. As part of the founding team he designed and implemented the ‘buy-side’ of the commercial product. He headed up the acquisition of agencies as buyers on the marketplace with a great deal of success. AdJug was the first Advertising marketplace to launch in Europe bringing transparency and choice for buyers of digital advertising.

Prior to AdJug Paps held the position of VP of Business Development at, where he was instrumental in launching the company and delivering a robust commercial strategy to take the product to market.

Prior to Videojug Paps was The Director of European Sales at MIVA (formerly known as Espotting Media), where he managed six European sales territories and delivered in excess of $200M pa in advertising revenues. Espotting one of the most successful dotcoms in recent years was valued at $170m at point of sale.

Paps cut his teeth at Emap where he spent five years, starting by selling print advertising and then moving onto digital offerings as early as 1997. At his departure he was Group Advertising Manager with commercial responsibility across a portfolio of products.

About Say Media

Say Media is the pioneer of Point-of-View Publishing™ with a rich portfolio of influential media brands rooted in passionate editorial across key consumer verticals including Style, Living, Men’s and Tech. The company’s next generation media and technology platform allows advertisers to remain prominent throughout the content experience, encouraging engagement and time spent with the brand. This combination of content and technology allows Say Media to provide simple and accountable ways for the world’s top brands to engage with audiences, at scale, with a reach of more than 400 million people globally.  

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