Madison Avenue Gets Meta Physical, Embeds 'Metadata' Directly Into Ads

In a move that could significantly impact the way advertisers, agencies and media companies traffic the data associated with advertising and media buys, Madison Avenue’s top trade associations this morning unveiled the first phase of a push to embed such information directly into the ads themselves. The initiative, dubbed the Embedded Metadata Manifesto, is based on the idea that such data -- including ways of identifying an ad or different versions of it, and when, where, and how it should run in the media -- can be permanently affixed to ads, which would do away with much of the manual labor and processing associated with trafficking ads.

The push, which is being backed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers, represents a significant breakthrough in the workflow and processing associated with advertising and media buying, because it would remove much of the need to physically “key in” data as ads are produced and distributed, reducing the likelihood that mistakes will be made along the way.

For years, Madison Avenue has sought to develop better ways of reducing such errors, especially in the media-buying process, where so-called “discrepancies” -- mistakes made in where and how an ad should run in the media -- cost the industry billions of dollars in time, labor and media waste. Such discrepancies impact all media, even inherently digital ones like online, because many of the ordering and traffic instructions are still processed manually via faxes, or retyped into computers by people who make mistakes.

The initiative also promises to greatly improve the production process of ads by embedding instructions for editing and post-production processes directly into the advertising content while it is being created.

The effort is an outgrowth of an earlier initiative by the 4As and the ANA to develop a universal, digital coding system for identifying ads and advertising assets throughout their process. That code, dubbed AdID, is now being used by 700 of the 1,800 national advertisers that the trade groups estimate effectively represent the national advertising marketplace, according to Harold Geller, the 4As executive who is leading the initiative.

With that “unique identifier” in place, Geller says it is now easy for the ad industry to move to the next phase of tagging it with all the critical metadata associated with the ad and its media buys, and affixing it directly to the ad itself.

While not all advertising is digital, Geller says virtually all advertising -- even analogue media such as magazines and newspapers -- are now created via a digital process, such as a PDF file, that is turned into print. Geller says the industry’s next phase will be to establish standard formats for each medium to carry the metadata, and that the first one -- for all forms of video advertising (both TV and online) -- has already been agreed upon in principle, and will be rolled out early next year. Once the standard video advertising format is established, he says the industry will begin to focus on print, radio and other media.

Importantly, he says embedding metadata into ads doesn’t just have industrial benefits, but can also significantly impact the way consumers are exposed to and experience ads as well, because “end-user” instructions can also be attached to the advertising content that could trigger interactive experiences or applications related to the ads.

Geller says at least “two more” big announcements related to this initiative will be unveiled during 2012, and that his “conservative” estimate is that it will take “18 to 24 months” before the new video advertising format reaches “critical mass” in the industry.

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