New IAB Units: The Publisher's Opportunity

At its recent annual leadership meeting, the Interactive Advertising Bureau introduced its first new standard ad unit portfolio in nearly a decade.  This is significant because when the IAB rolls out a standard (whether it’s ad units, terms and conditions, or otherwise) it is typically adopted by most, if not all, of the digital industry.

Most intriguing about the new standards are the six new, larger units originally called “Rising Stars.”  Notably, the name for these units has already been changed on the IAB website to “Rich Media Branding Units.”  Officially rolling out a set of units focused on, and named for brands is a very positive development that should be commended.

It is a move that has been a long time coming.  Despite all of the advances in data, targeting optimization and buying methodologies in the past decade, brands’ display spending has not reached a level that satisfies the industry (notwithstanding Facebook ads, which are classified as display, but are clearly not. But I digress.) Some think it’s because digital is simply harder to buy than TV, and that fixing the “plumbing,” or making display easier to buy, is the answer.  While there is a ring of truth to that, I disagree overall.  Making banners easier to buy will not make advertisers invest significantly more in display. 



But, making display formats better will.  Because, quite frankly, banners suck.

They have hit a plateau in performance (DoubleClick Display Benchmarks). There are too many of them (comScore Reports 4.8 Trillions Ads Delivered in 2011).  A third of them are never even viewed (vCE™ Charter Study Finds 3 of Every 10 Display Ads are not Seen).  Which is why users by and large, tune them out (“Ignoring Internet Banner Ads”). Ironically, these problems are partially due to actions taken by publishers, although no one can blame them.  Ad exchanges and SSPs created the opportunity for more ads per page, which accounted for more revenue for each one placed (albeit at a very low CPM). 

All this has led us to the situation we, as an industry, are faced with now: standard formats being ignored by users and undervalued by brands.

The introduction of the Rich Media Branding Units is publishers’ chance to change display for the better. And that is my call to action for them. Let’s get back to the essence of advertising and create site experiences that inspire brand marketers to open their eyes (and wallets).  Let’s put resources toward site redesign templates that feature these new, larger units.  Let’s put them in your sales teams’ bag and incentivize them to sell.  Let’s work with technology providers that can help bring them to life.  This is the publisher’s opportunity above all.

6 comments about "New IAB Units: The Publisher's Opportunity".
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  1. Corey Kronengold from NYIAX, March 15, 2012 at 12:05 p.m.

    Sad that it took 3 years for this to happen. The Online Publishers Association came out with their "Bigger is Better" research back in March of 2009.

  2. Tarik Sedky from Young & Rubicam, March 15, 2012 at 12:07 p.m.


  3. Myles Younger from Canned Banners, March 15, 2012 at 12:18 p.m.

    Agreed on a few points:

    - yes, there are too many banners being served, but inventory supply is ultimately controlled by publishers (who insert ad placements into pages), not by advertisers or the IAB

    - 1/3 of display ads are never seen (while true, you could come up with an equivalent measure of waste for any ad format: getting up to leave the room when TV commercials come on, skipping the first 100 pages of ads in GQ...unseen ads are just a cost of doing business)

    I think the key omission in this piece is that POORLY TARGETED banner ads suck, not banner ads overall. For example, I do a lot of research into other online ad companies. It's been awhile since I cleared my cookies, so I'm currently being retargeted by Acquisio, iSocket, and Bizo, among others. Their ad creative is getting a bit stale at this point, but I think it's great that they've got a passive communication channel opened to me. My in box isn't flooded, and the ads are relatively unobtrusive as I go about my daily business. The specific ad formats don't really matter in this case, as long as it's easy to digest the messages being communicated.

    And while I'm on the topic of targeting, most rich media ads (e.g., video, expandable, takeover, etc) I see are VERY poorly targeted (i.e., I ignore the hell out of those suckers). So again, while ad formats can have some differentiating qualities, I think at best they're a secondary pivot point when it comes to campaign performance.

    And one downside of yet more display ad formats is that they're difficult to design for. Spreading a single ad concept across wide, flat banners, big fat rectangular banners, and tall, narrow banners is not easy. Of course agencies and designers do it every day, but it adds to advertiser costs, media buy complexity, turnaround times, and publisher overhead.

    I do, however, agree with the spirit of your final paragraph: I think fewer, larger units are the best way to go, assuming publishers can make money this way (cuz if they can't, then it's just wishful thinking). I'm a big fan of the 300x600 unit, and it would be nice if publishers would move to a standard where most pages would have 1 300x600 unit and that would be it; it's a large canvas for advertiser messages, and it looks more like page content.

    Myles, co-founder

  4. Ned Newhouse from Conde Nast , March 15, 2012 at 2:16 p.m.

    As one of the founders of 247Media way back then until now, the problem with internet advertising has never been with the size, its been about the lack of brand engagement. Ads as well as web sites need to be richer to inform about the brand, so more consumers walk away with a useful and plausible message that reasonates with them. "Animated gifs inspire too few." We all have to beef up our marketing.
    As a person that now focuses on mobile, rich media ads that are coming from builders like Crisp, Celtra, Medialets,etc include multi social links, video, location finders, games, slide shows, data collection and other inherit phone tech (eg accelerometer) ALL in a single ad unit. This puts the control of the ad experience into the hands of the consumer where there is something for everyone. Take a look this ad units in the galleries of these sites. I'm hopeful that agencies and marketers will bring rich media back to the future. This is also why I'm very bullish on mobile.

  5. Eric Franchi from Undertone, March 16, 2012 at 9:03 a.m.

    Thanks all.

    Corey, the key is that it's the IAB - they set the standards.

    Myles, part of the reason that you are seeing so many poorly targeted banners is the glut of supply. Fewer ads = more relevant. Fewer and bigger = the future IMO.

    Ned, you make a great point. A lot of these larger display units can and should become much richer and engaging.

  6. Ned Newhouse from Conde Nast , March 16, 2012 at 11:57 a.m.

    I'm following up more specifically. Yes we publishers can load an SDK on our web sites and push rich media. We can talk tech, but the agencies and inevitably the marketing director need invest and execute these units. So I would add "& Advertiser's" Opportunity to your headline. This is why mobile rich media performance can be back to the future. I'm not buying the size thing, we are executing expandables in a tiny 300x50 mobile unit. We can just as easily do this in a 468x60 pc web unit too.

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