The Online Publishers Association announced Tuesday that 37 of its members, whose sites reach 68% of the total U.S. Internet audience, have begun offering the three new larger new ad units the group unveiled in March. Several -- including The New York Times, CNN and MSNBC.com -- are already running, or will soon launch, campaigns for brands such as Bank of America and Mercedes-Benz.
The rollout follows the OPA's announcement of the new ad formats three months ago as part of an effort to encourage better ad creative and highlight the Internet's potential as a brand advertising medium. The three jumbo-sized ad units are:
• The Fixed Panel (336 wide x 700 tall), which remains in view as a user scrolls up or down the page.
• The XXL Box (468 x 648), the extra wide side-of-page ad that expands to 936 x 648 and includes page-turn and video capability.
• The Pushdown (970 x 418), which opens big to display the ad and then after seven seconds rolls up to the top of the page (collapsing to 970 x 66).
An initial group of 24 OPA members including The Times, Forbes and ESPN committed to begin making the new standards available to advertisers by July. More than a dozen other Web publishers have since joined the effort, with the 37 participating sites reaching a combined 132.2 million visitors, according to the OPA.
"The real motivation was to provide marketers and agencies with the opportunity to deliver a branded experience directly on the pages of these very rich content sites," said OPA President Pam Horan. Today's announcement comes on the heels of an OPA/comScore study released this month showing that display advertising, especially on OPA sites, helps drive consumer engagement and online spending.
This followed a prior OPA study last year indicating that branded content sites have a greater impact on key metrics such as brand favorability and purchase intent than ad networks and portals.
Horan said the three months' lead time for implementing the new units was necessary because many publishers had to redesign their Web pages to accommodate the larger formats. In addition to striving to create more attention-grabbing display ads, the initiative is also intended to show fewer ads per page "so the competition for consumer eyeballs is reduced," said Horan.
Among the three formats, she noted that the pushdown has proven the most popular so far in terms of adoption because it's the one that requires the least amount of modification to Web pages. Frito-Lay used the pushdown in the second quarter for a campaign on Discovery's PlanetGreen.com and CAN is using it on Bizjournals.com. Bank of America will soon begin to use the unit on CNN.com and Time.com.
Cleveland Clinic will run the fixed-panel unit on NYTimes.com starting in mid-July, and Mercedes-Benz in July will employ various OPA units across sites such as NYTimes.com, WSJ.com, Washingtonpost.com, and FoxSports.com in connection with its campaign for the new E-Class Mercedes.
Patrick Frend, senior vice president of client engagement for the Mercedes account at Razorfish, said the new units on top sites were a good fit with the campaign. "Being able to own advertising on the page through one effective ad unit instead of multiple smaller ad units allows us to create a more luxurious experience appropriate for a leading brand like Mercedes-Benz," he said.
For publishers, it will hopefully also lead to a bigger payoff in keeping or garnering lucrative sponsorship ad deals. Not all of the ad formats are for everyone, however. MSNBC said last month that it won't use the fixed-panel ad because users did not respond well in the past to a similar unit that follows visitors up and down the page.
In response to feedback, Horan said the height of the fixed ad was trimmed from 860 pixels to 700. She also noted that the OPA recommends to members that the frequency of the pushdown ad be capped at once per day per page. "We want to stay close to the consumer," she said.