Ad Placement

The Problem

For ages now, in-stream TV commercials were a leading advertising approach. Since the world has been quickly transitioning from cable TV to over-the-top (or OTT) internet services, advertisers are losing the chance to deliver messages on TV to their customers. To tackle this problem, ads team came up with the idea of using Samsung smart TV UI to discover advertising opportunities. At the time I got on board, Samsung Ads had very few monotonous ad placements. The product was eager to expand and grow.

My Role

I am the lead designer who wears multiple hats. My duties cover the end-to-end design process, from user research to ideation, creating UX flows and UI sketches, building rapid prototypes, conducting usability testing, and giving presentations to convince stakeholders.

(For my non-disclosure agreement, I omitted and obscured confidential information in this case study. All information in this case study does not necessarily reflect the views of Samsung.)

How I Design

Step 1: research

Samsung Ads serves two groups of people: advertisers and Samsung smart TV users. At the beginning of the design process, I partnered with marketers and UX researchers to learn the desires of advertisers and the pain points of TV users. We conducted extensive research through observations, interviews and literature reviews of ad industry research reports.

Advertisers’ desires are straightforward. They want people to see and click the ads. When evaluating an ad platform, they care about if ad targeting is effective, if the ad can be seen by people frequently, if ad size is big, etc. Beyond that, post-click is important to present further information and encourage buying.

On the other hand, ads are generally viewed unfavorably by people. My design challenge on this project was to create an ad experience that was not merely tolerable but one that users would find useful and enjoy. In order to understand people's behavior and attitude, I conducted two types of research:
  1. TV interaction analysis: analyzing TV usage data to understand how the traffic goes on TV.
  2. Literature review: understanding people’s thoughts regarding digital ads across platforms (web, mobile, OTT, etc.).
The main finding from my research was people don’t hate all ads; they hate the obnoxious ads. For instance, people don’t like pop-up ads because it disrupts what they are doing. Additionally, people feel irritated by ads that are not polished or look unprofessional. However, people have less negative opinions about ads that are not disrupting what they intend to do, polished and relevant to their interest. Also, people don’t mind if ads sponsor movies that are free to watch.

Market Research and User Study

Step 2: ideation

A quick summary of the research findings:
  1. Advertisers want people to see and click their ads. They care about targeting effectiveness, ad viewability, ad size, etc.
  2. People don’t mind ads that are not disrupting, polished, and relevant.
The design solution has 3 components:
  1. To increase views, design ad placement so to maximize viewability while not being disrupting.
  2. To increase clicks, create ad content quality control by filtering out unpolished ads.
  3. To increase clicks, improve ad relevance by learning people’s viewing and browsing history.
To amplify ad exposure, I started with understanding with screens on Samsung smart TVs that are most visited by people. By looking at the usage data, I found these 3 screens are getting the most traffic: TV home screen, App Store home screen, For You (home screen of a program discovery service). Since the content above the fold (rather than under the fold) would have much more chance to be seen by people. I decided to focus on exploring ad placements above the fold in those three screens.

Over the next month, I created nearly 40 ad placements design for the TV home screen, App Store home screen and the For You screen. These designs covered TV model years from 2015 to 2019 and various ad placements in the following ways:
  1. Layout: on the top and horizontal, on the side and vertical, in the middle and blend in.
  2. Size: small (conservative) ad, big (aggressive) ad, expandable (on hover) ad.
  3. Format: autoplay video ad, gif animation ad, static banner ad.
  4. Information: along the ad creatives, with or without call-to-action (CTA) buttons, prices, airing dates, etc.
  5. Category: TV show or movie ad, car ad, chocolate ad.

As an ad platform, Samsung Ads doesn’t completely control the ad content on its platform. To increase ad engagement, we review ad creatives before displaying them on TV, and use data to improve ad targeting and deliver the most relevant ads to people.

Paper Sketches

Wireframes and Mockups

Step 3: prototype

I built prototypes and created comprehensive presentation slides to showcase the ad placement designs to the product managers, the engineers and the marketers (who have direct contact with the advertisers). They provided feedback that helped me focus on the options that best achieve our goals, while considering all the constraints.

For example, the autoplay video ad was one of the top choices for a few reasons: it catches people’s eyes (marketing); it is relatively easy to implement (engineering); it is more scalable given the inconsistency of Samsung TV operating systems (product).

Step 4: user testing

Advertising's purpose is to deliver the product message to the right people. When people find the ad is helpful, they tend to show greater interest in learning more information or buying the product. Therefore, the testing was to validate if the ad was noticeable and could provide helpful information.

To find out the most effective design, I worked with UX researchers and conducted two types of testing:
  1. Cafe study to learn people’s ad sentiment which was quantitative and quicker.
  2. Usability testing to verify interaction and visual design which was qualitative and deeper.
There were four main findings:
  1. People liked being able to visually distinguish the ad in order to avoid going to it by mistake.
  2. Autoplay video ad was more noticeable than static banner ad and some people commented that it added spice to the experience.
  3. People wanted to see the price up-front if they were interested. Related information along the ad would trigger more clicks.
  4. People showed preference on seeing TV show or movie ads, rather than cars or consumer goods.
Based on the findings, in the next iteration, I focused on ad placements that were visually different from the other components in the TV UI and added information about the ad that would help people with their decision making. Beyond that, ads team prioritized the autoplay video ad as the top format and focused on TV show and movie ads as the main category.

User Testing Results

Launched Product

Video Ad on home screen on TV 2018

Ad in Universal Guide on TV 2019

Video Ad in App Store on TV 2017

Video Ad in Apps Panel on TV 2016

Video Ad on home screen on TV 2016

Ad on home screen on TV 2015

The Impact

Business Success - Win Advertisers

Since new ad placements launched, Samsung Ads has been getting media's attention and loved by advertisers. A redesign of one of the ad placements drove the number of views increased by 33%. Our revenue has been doubling every year since 2016.

Last year, program tune-in was improved, as the viewership of a summer premiere episode on a top broadcast network more than doubled (200%+lift). Also, we facilitated 10 times greater views at a subscription video streaming app through Samsung Ads native and cross-device experiences.

UX Success - Win Users

The advertising industry has complicated rules and regulations. Designing an ad platform is even more complicated for seeking the balance between user experience and business goals. As a designer of an ad platform, I always believe that UX and advertising should not and do not have to be enemies. My design is driven by the philosophy that good design is good business which leads to ad formats and placements to be native, non-intrusive and not breaking the user experience. Good ads can be useful and enjoyable to the users while bringing more profits to the advertisers.

As a reflection of this design philosophy, in a quick poll that people were asked, in their attitude to the ads on Samsung Ads platform, most people chose "like" and "neutral".

Design Culture Evangelism

Because design has historically been equated with aesthetics and craft, designers have been celebrated as artistic and savants. It is a common situation that designers are experiencing misunderstanding of design from people across functions at work. As a designer, I have been spending more time explaining what design is than actually doing it.

Instead of adding cosmetic layers, design is a crucial cognitive ability to solve people’s problems given the knowledge of human conditions and human needs. In the real world of business, design should be driving product innovation instead of being subsidiary and driven by technology or business. Design should not be an extra; it needs to be a core competence.

I evangelize design thinking and establish design process in three ways: I promote the vision of design in day-to-day work; I give design talks to product managers, engineers, and other coworkers; and I invite people to be participants of my user research and usability testing. Since I joined the team, noticeable changes have happened as collaboration flow and product development process have been reshaped with design thinking incorporated. People have started to think of design differently.

There is no longer any real distinction between business strategy and the design of the user experience. Although changing workflow and changing people's mind is tough, I believe it is worth making the effort to release the power of design and make a meaningful impact.