The New Standards: The Media Debate
Tom Hespos: Are the new guidelines put forth by the IAB going to help move the industry along?
Michael Hirshoren, vice-president sales, Salon Media: I think the new guidelines are a good step forward. A lot of marketing directors that we’ve talked to say they need a larger canvas for brand message on the web. Nick Pahade, managing director, Beyond Interactive: I feel that the guidelines are definitely helping to move the industry along. Obviously, many of us are of the position that it’s a long time coming. While I think this is a great step forward in helping to shape the industry and provide some guidelines, we’re still far away from where we need to be.
Jeffrey Graham, director, Dynamic Logic: I think that the new standards are positive in two ways: First, I think that they’re shaking things up a bit. I think that people were complacent in working in the standards. They were generally not particularly happy working with the limited set of standards, and this is going to hopefully ignite some creativity. The second thing is that it is helping people recognize the emphasis on branding that our industry is, thankfully, moving towards. And hopefully, these new sizes will give a larger palette for people to fulfill those objectives.
Hespos: If you recall, the initial guidelines all helped us save time so that we wouldn’t have to produce an almost infinite number of ads for the different ad campaigns we were doing. But basically, the IAB has made the new sizes an add-on to the existing guidelines, if you don’t count that 392 x 72 banner that they nixed. Do you think that this is going to complicate the process at all for production departments? Or, do you think that people use all the different sizes? Or, do you think there will be more favored sizes in the mix?
Pahade: I think it’s definitely positive. I don’t think it’s going to complicate. I think it gives the opportunity to foster more creativity. I’m sure that there will be some units that do end up out-performing others on a case-by-case basis. So I’m sure that what’s most effective will vary per client, depending upon the objectives of the campaign. But I think for most production shops, this is a wonderful opportunity.
Tig Tillinghast, author and interactive agency consultant: A big question is the placement of these sizes, because a lot of them are very large, and I’ve been hearing a lot of people begin to be concerned. In the research comparing one type of unit versus another, size is a big deal, and clutter has a lot to do with it. On the other side, though, some of these sizes are so large that it’s difficult to get content there without having them occluded off to one side of the screen or make users quickly scroll away from them. So I think we’ll do a lot of learning early on, figuring out which ones work, which ones don’t. And it might not necessarily be intuitive at first.
Hespos: Michael, just from the publisher’s side, do you see difficulties with doing redesigns to incorporate the new formats? Do you think it’s going to take some time? How quickly are people going to be able to adapt?
Hirshoren: Anytime you ask a publisher to redesign his website, that’s an enormous undertaking. Salon has been an innovator in adapting new ad sizes, but what we’ve found a lot of times is that it’s actually the agencies. They’re willing to try new things, which is great. I think it’s about finding that happy medium, because a publisher doesn’t necessarily always want to redesign his whole website when something is so brand new. We want to get feedback. We’re willing to try it, but we want to make sure that this is something that a lot of different advertisers are going to use. So, I think a palette, or a choice, of all these different creative sizes could be confusing in the first couple of months, maybe even a year. Then, finally people might settle down and say, “Alright, this size is working really well, and that size is working really well.” Also, there are so many different websites that can create different opportunities. For instance, with that larger box-shaped size, does it fit in the middle of the page? Does it fit at the top? Will it work with other different sites? Again, I think it’s another testing phase to really settle things. Maybe eight months down the road we’ll figure it out a little better.
Hespos: On the agency side, I’m curious as to how clients have been reacting to the news; how eager are they to test the new sizes?
Pahade: Clients have been extremely receptive to taking these on, and we’ve received numerous inquiries. I think that many of our clients appreciate that we push the envelope and that we’ve been doing things like this —going beyond simply the 468 x 60 pixel image—for a long period of time. So, while this is new news from a perspective of standardization, it isn’t necessarily new news from the production that we’ve had; it’s kind of business as usual from our perspective.
Hirshoren: From a publisher’s side, this gives us a set template to work with, and to work with the agencies and clients to make sure that we are delivering solutions within these units, and they can work with those creative sizes that they already have. But we’re always willing to try and bend and create something new also. If there’s a unique idea that’s out there, we’re willing to kind of bend to meet that.
Hespos: Are we focusing on the wrong issue by emphasizing the size of the ad? Is it the size or what you do with it?
Graham: We presented a paper at the ARF last year called “The Five Golden Rules of Online Branding,” and from a branding perspective, we found that size correlates with branding effectiveness. So, size does matter when it comes to branding value. And I wanted to note that we are going to be doing a study for the IAB in testing the new ad format sizes against some of the smaller standard sizes. So, hopefully we’ll come closer to a definitive answer in terms of branding effectiveness relative to size. But I do agree that size isn’t the whole story, and it depends on what you do within those borders.
Hespos: Can you tell us what specific brand metrics you’re going to be measuring in that study?
Graham: We’ll be looking at lift between a control and exposed group in brand awareness, message association, brand favorability, and purchase intent. And of course we’re going to be looking across multiple advertisers, and each advertiser is going to have its own specific objectives and its own different baselines for where those metrics already are. So, we’re going to see different stories among those different advertisers. But in the aggregate, we want to look to see if size makes a difference in terms of impact across those four measures.
Hespos: Prior to the announcement of the IAB guidelines, CNET was standardizing a few Flash-based units on its site. They even got some other sites to adopt their standards. What do you think of these ad units and do you think that the IAB should have made some effort to issue rich media standards along with the ad size guidelines?
Tillinghast: Anything you do with rich media is inherently political in the industry, I suppose, because if you start to issue a standard in one type of technology, most of them are proprietary. I think it was difficult for the IAB to be fair and to have standards. That’s a tough issue.
Pahade: I agree with those sentiments. It’s definitely a tough issue. I would have liked to have seen the IAB address it from some perspective. But, again, I think it’s important to note that these are voluntary guidelines.
Hirshoren: Salon is actually investigating with CNET the possibility of adopting these sizes at some point. We’re looking at them and seeing what the effect is, and down the road, we could possibly have the same kind of Flash creative. But at this time, we just want to take a look at it. Some of the issues of Flash creative—which Flash version does your site accept, and all these other questions—tend to come into play with rich media.
Tillinghast: I think maybe the failure to have rich media standards isn’t the IAB’s. I think that the ad agency industry really has to own up more to not having the standards. I don’t think that the agency industry, the buyers of this, have really come up with their own desires, their own specs, yet. And while they do participate at a level with the IAB, I would have expected them to have more of an interest in specifying out exactly what it is they wanted to use.
Hespos: What didn’t you see in the standards that you might have liked to have seen? [Long silence] Anybody want to take that? [Longer silence] [Laughter]
Media: This silence is baffling. Weren’t people clamoring for the standards? And then, when they came out, weren’t people angry or disappointed about Flash and CNET? Tillinghast: That wasn’t my impression of the reaction. The reason I wasn’t responding earlier was more because it was kind of a yawner, I guess. It’s a very useful thing, but there isn’t a big controversy in my mind behind it, in terms of something lacking.
Media: Was it pretty much a yawner all around? Was it low expectations to begin with or is it disappointment that they didn’t show more guidance? Or, that they are not leading? Or that what they’ve done is a very conservative move that doesn’t really help spur anything?
Pahade: I don’t think anybody in the industry is really ready to be completely standardized. I don’t think we’re where we can say, “OK, we have a standard of a 15-, a 30-, and a 60-second spot.” I don’t think we’re quite there, yet. We’re still defining our standards. We’re still a growing medium. So, in their defense, it’s not fair for them to address the issues at this point in time, when, to someone’s point earlier, we’re still struggling with exactly what we want to run with.
Media: Who are the leaders in this struggle?
Pahade: I don’t think there’s necessarily one proven player that’s got the torch and running with it. There are many current technology players out there that are coming up with new ideas and new units, and they’re trying to amass support. And there are a lot of advertising agencies that have come up with their own technology or are partnering with these guys to create new interesting things, as well as working with the publishing community to make sure that the new creative interesting things that we’re creating have the ability to be placed. So, I think it’s got to be a collective alignment.
Media: Are there distinct camps? Or is everyone looking to the IAB ?
Tillinghast: On one hand, you have some trade organizations that have limited normative authority, kind of like the UN. Not alot gets done very quickly, but that’s the nature of it. On the other hand, there are some companies that through the course of accretion and becoming these large conglomerates owning many, many, many different websites or technology companies, have become forces in and of themselves. And people are kind of hoping that they don’t foist standards.
Media: Who are those forces?
Tillinghast: I think it’s the people who sell a very large percentage of the online ads. It’s the people like the large networks, like DoubleClick. It’s the very large sites like America Online, Yahoo. They’re in a position. And I don’t think that to date they’ve really abused that, but it is the kind of thing that the smaller players are like ants walking around the elephant, hoping that they don’t step in their direction.
Hespos: Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where there’s an emerging technology that eventually does become part of an IAB standard, like a rich media format that achieves a high penetration ?
Tillinghast: I think it has to be close. I think with increasing bandwidth and more sites accepting that kind of thing, I think standards become more important. I think it will be a slow process, but it will come. Pahade: I definitely think there will be some standard. I don’t necessarily think there’s just going to be one, per se, but it will have to come to that point. But I think it’s also important to recognize the fact that we are in an extremely fast moving environment, and there is information moving all the time, and it’s very difficult. People cannot change at the spot of a dime every single time. So, I think there is this waiting game, in particular with the softness of the market and with companies coming and going by the wayside at a relatively fast rate, it’s important to make sure that you do look at things with some prudence and that you do take some time to engulf before you make changes.
Hirshoren: I just think that it’s a great first step toward something regarding ad sizes that hasn’t been done in a while. And whether the reaction was good or bad, as Tig was saying before, it’s going to happen. At least now they’ll be able to, hopefully, meet more frequently and adjust based on the publishers, based on agencies, clients, who are interested in exploring new ad units. We’ve found our clients really interested in larger units based on branding. The people who are really interested in creating a brand presence on the web are going to want a larger canvas to get the message out to their users.
Graham: I think that the IAB recognizes that this is a first step, I agree that it is a good first step, but I don’t think that the folks at the IAB think that this is the last word or the last step in terms of helping the industry with standards.
Pahade: People always want to move things forward. While it wasn’t as “tah-dah” as people anticipated, it was a very positive step forward. It allows us to really offer more of an integrated marketing mix, a much more holistic marketing strategy from an online and offline perspective. Allan: What would have made it “tah-dah”?
Nick: Again, I don’t know what would have made it “tah-dah” – obviously, tackling some of these other issues, but I don’t know if those are reasonable. I think it may be that expectations are higher than what is feasible at this point in time.
Michael: I just think moving forward, you mentioned that “tah-dah” factor, I don’t know if it’s going to be any specific size, but I know that larger sizes definitely seem of a lot more interest to advertisers . They’re able to create a larger, grand message on this canvas. In addition to that, I think it’s going to be technology that’s going to drive al ot of these ad units. It seems that we’re a new medium and we’re still held to a lot of standards as far as traditional practices, whether it’s a big glossy print magazines or a powerful T.V. commercial. So, whenever we find that happy medium where clients are allowed to say, “ Wow, this is something that I can really work with” – I think that’s the eventually what’s going to happen . And, that is more so the evolution of technology, whether its band width or some new technology that allows this ad to be a little more interactive or create a larger message.
Nick: I agree with that. I’m going to take a different spin on it. I agree it’s the combination of the technology and the accountability, but I think the new standards, as well as the new technology that’s coming out, allow us to really offer more of an integrated marketing mix, rather than having more money allocate towards the web versus other platforms. I think what it allows is the fact that you can create a much more holistic marketing strategy from an online and offline perspective.