The Internet Advertising Bureau made quite a bit of noise this week by announcing a whole new set of approved formats for Web advertising. Apparently in response to the decreasing popularity of banner ads (whose approval rating currently ranks below that of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori) the IAB's goal is to present Web advertisers with a broader palette of options that will (hopefully) turn into higher click-throughs.
Generally correct though long overdue, the IAB's decision can be translated to mean "We know the Web is a great advertising medium, we just haven't figured out how to use it properly. So we'll keep trying new stuff until we hit the right combination of creative and media."
The IAB has focused its suggestions on two main areas: size and motion. I guess before Smell-O-Vision comes out, those are about all the tools the marketer has in his quiver. But larger ad size means less real estate on the screen available for content. And motion means time: the time needed to watch the commercial. And no matter how slick and cute they are, soon the novelty will wear off and the consumer will resist clicking on ad images that threaten to come to life and take up valuable time in doing so.
It's interesting to compare the evolution of advertising formats on television vs. the Web.
When television took off as a commercial medium in the 1950's, advertisers had vast amounts of time to themselves. Entire programs were commercials, such as those sponsored by Texaco and Kraft. As the medium became more popular and the value of advertising time increased, commercials became shorter. The predominant television advertising unit in the 1960s was the 60-second spot; it wasn't until the 1970s that the 30-second commercials we're used to seeing came into their own. And of course commercials kept shrinking down to 15- and 10-second spots.
What makes the comparison to Web advertising so interesting is that the evolution of commercial formats is exactly the reverse of television: since the Web was born in a firestorm of hype and advertising rates were high from the get-go, ad formats started small in the form of banners and button. But as Web ad rates and response rates dropped (again, the reverse of television's evolution) the industry woke up to the need for larger and potentially more effective ad formats. Ergo the IAB's recent initiative.
So where is all this going?
Crystal balls in this business are worthless, but until the dramatic slowdown in offline advertising ends (especially in network television) it's safe to say that Web advertising isn't going to achieve anything near the growth rates it saw in 2000. But we continue to see the inexorable addition of new advertisers on the Web every week, and the medium is attracting more mainstream clients.
Best guess is for a recovery in advertising in the fall of 2001, which will bring the Web and all its new formats along with it.