Hearst’s Khemlani: App Makers Need To Search Harder For ‘Inspiration’

The mobile ad market may be starting to bloom thanks to the efforts by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG), but Neeraj Khemlani, VP and ?¨special assistant to the CEO for Digital Media ?¨at Hearst Corp., feels that the creativity of app ads has yet to match the pace of media companies in adapting to the new formats available. At a gathering last week of advertisers to mark the rollout of Hearst’s App Lab, which is intended to serve as a “think tank” where the publisher and agencies can share ideas about how the advance the business and creativity around mobile advertising, Khemlani offered what he called a “playlist” of sites and ads that he thinks could point marketers in the right direction.

Hearst is in the middle of what Khemlani called a “product avalanche” of mobile and tablet apps by the end of the year, with O, The Oprah Magazine, Seventeen, Harpers Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Food Network following following recent iPad app editions for Esquire and Popular Mechanics.

“As the lines blur between mediums, storytelling becomes a more diverse exercise,” Khemlani told paidContent. “In terms of what the elements are in this new landscape, picture a Venn diagram, with Hollywood and movies, Silicon Valley and tech, video games, east coast content such as magazines and newspapers placed in various parts. You’re aiming at different bullseyes. So you have to start to create rich brand experiences that can bring all those different aspects together.”

Starting with the obvious notion that a tablet is different from a TV set, movie screen and a PC, though it has some of the important aspects of those mediums, Khemlani walked advertisers through what he called a “playlist” of 10 sites that seem to point the way in terms of expanding the current boundaries of creativity and digital advertising.

One of the sites he included in his rundown was for the spirits brand Jagermeister, whose site, interestingly enough, runs on Adobe’s Flash and is therefore not able to be experienced on Apple’s iPhone or iPad. On the site, a bottle of Jager pops up and invites users to chip the ice off it. “So many app ads are simply static, or at most, come with a video,” Khemlani said. “When people use a touchscreen device, they expect to be able to touch it, to interact with it.”

Other sites on his playlist included one for an air filtration company (“microbes come flying out at you”) and a Wrangler jeans site where buttons pop-off a model and users can disrobe the image with a few moves of the cursor. He also pointed to the band Arcade Fire’s site, which puts the user in the back of a car and sends flashing images of suburbia when the cursor is moved over parts of the window.

Khemlani did include one app in his presentation. He talked about Touching Stories, a free iPad app that has the work of four Hollywood filmmakers. Essentially, the user can become a “ghost” in the scenes, sending objects flying at the actors.

“We have to get beyond simply rotating a car in an app ad,” Khemlani said. “I know that when I turn to an ad within an app and nothing happens, I feel a little disappointed, like my attention is not worth it to them.”

Hearst says it’s already trying to make its app experiences worth it to advertisers and readers. For example, Cosmo will feature an app within an app when it launches an “enhanced digital edition” in March. It will be an interactive “window shopping” experience with each advertiser getting its own unique user interaction and social media elements. So far, the magazine has already signed up “five major beauty advertisers” for the app, though Hearst declined to identify them specifically.