Commentary

Rich Media Standards: To Be or Not to Be?

For a long period of time there have been discussions about whether standards are required for rich media (RM) ads or not. There are pros and cons to each argument, but I believe a different and new approach must be taken to better understand the issue.

By default, RM ads cannot have standards - almost by definition. I am explicitly referring to the savvier executions such as floating ads and expanding banners. When we try to squeeze those formats into "standards," we actually get into a catch 22 situation where if we try and make "the standards" broad, eventually the standards will not provide the adequate value we look for them to provide in the first place. On the other hand, if "the standards" are too narrow, the RM execution of the specific format is harmed and therefore the "richness" effect is not achieved.

After closely following the discussions around standardization of RM ads in the last few years, the sole conclusion I've reached is this: RM was invented as a tool for marketers and advertisers, by marketers and advertisers. If we go back to the not-so-distant past, we will find that RM advertising is mostly implemented using Macromedia's Flash, whereas RM advertising was not Macromedia's original destiny for Flash.

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Smart marketers who were always on the lookout for new tools to improve communication to their prospects actually adopted Flash primarily as a tool for RM advertising, and Macromedia did a fantastic job in identifying this opportunity and transforming Flash. Unfortunately, they did not make the best decisions (to say the least) in leveraging the broad usage of Flash in advertising and transforming that into substantial scalable revenues (but that is something for a separate article).

So, back to the main point: RM advertising was invented by marketers for marketers. So why would marketers want to put standards around RM? Well, they don't. The operation people do. In order to take the promise of RM advertising and realize it into scalable ongoing seamless executions, operation people engaged in the exercise of wrapping RM advertising in standards with the sole goal of streamlining execution of RM campaigns. But then others tried to define and promote standards for the creative content of the RM executions. And, this is the source of the big discrepancy between the standards that have to be defined for RM. It sounds almost illogical to try and standardize content of RM ads. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense to standardize the execution of RM campaigns. I personally think it is impossible to provide standards for RM ads. Here are two examples why:

First, why on earth would someone want to create a standard that limits the playtime of user-initiated streaming video ads to 15 seconds? This restriction exists in today's marketplace. If we analyze carefully the above limitation (which is being promoted as a standard by certain parties), we will notice that it makes no sense at all. To begin with, I am referring to a user-initiated video stream. The user chooses to see the video stream. Every entity involved in that piece of advertising loses by limiting the user's viewing time: the advertiser, for obvious reasons and the publisher because the user could have enjoyed a 30-second, or 45-second video and they cannot due to marketplace restrictions. At the end of the day, it is user-initiated. The only "standard" that needs to exist in this example is a close button, if the user regrets their initiation.

Another example being promoted as standards for RM ads is a size limit by publishers of politely downloaded RM ads or ads that download only after the publisher's content finished downloading. Therefore, if the RM ad downloads politely, why would the publisher, the user, the advertiser, or anyone else for that matter, mind what downloads thereafter? I strongly feel that publishers should not define the allowed ad size if the ad downloads politely. The richer the ad, the more entertaining it is, the better it is for the users, the advertisers, and the publishers.

To summarize, there should be a very clear distinction between standards for the creative content of RM ads (bad) and the processes for creating and launching RM ads (good). There are some entities who mélange all of these together to a single set of RM ads and by that, create confusion, limit creativity, disable the real standards from coming through, and most importantly promote bad standards. None of which is the original intent of RM standards.

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