Those that have been following my column for the past few years know that I’m fond of following the goings-on over at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and interjecting a comment or two when they
release guidelines or anything else that might affect our industry. You might say that I’ve been particularly vocal when the IAB releases something that doesn’t appear to make sense to me. Recently,
at a gathering of industry professionals, someone called me on it.
“All right, smartass,” said an ad exec who will not be named here. “If you were the president of the IAB, what would you do?”
I smiled, because this question gave me a terrific column topic. I love it when people give me column topic ideas. (Half the battle of writing a weekly column is figuring out what I should
write about each week.)
Interactive advertising, particularly advertising delivered via the web and via email, is at a crossroads. Not only are consumers becoming tired of and overwhelmed by
the sheer volume of advertising that crosses their desktops, but they’re also suspicious and resentful of some of the methods and channels through which advertisers reach them. If we are not very
careful about how we handle ourselves over the course of the next couple of years, I think we run the risk of seeing increased federal regulation, decreased ad effectiveness and a diminished respect
for the way we make our living.
If I were president of the IAB, the following items would be on my agenda:
- Define the “rules of engagement” - Several new advertising
vehicles are distributed as software that can be bundled with commonly downloaded shareware or freeware programs. In many cases, these software ad vehicles install themselves on a user’s computer
without permission, or without adequately explaining how they will affect the user’s Internet experience. These applications make Internet users suspicious of online advertising. Additionally, some of
these software applications that spawn advertising track the sites that a user visits. Again, this behavior makes Internet users suspicious and resentful. What we need is a series of guidelines that
specify how a software application should engage the user. The guidelines should also cover acceptable changes to the user’s Internet experience, especially the notion of interfering with traditional
methods of delivering advertising. Upon issuing the guidelines, the IAB should work with buying-side trade organizations like the AAAA, and ask advertisers to pull ad budgets from any ad vehicles that
don’t adhere to the guidelines.
- Solidify existing guidelines for ad measurement - The IAB’s guidelines for campaign measurement define an ad impression as follows: “A measurement of
responses from an ad delivery system to an ad request from the user’s browser, which is filtered from robotic activity and is recorded at a point as late as possible in the process of delivery of the
creative material to the user’s browser – therefore closest to actual opportunity to see by the user.” That’s a neat guideline, but it can’t be adopted as a standard because of its ambiguity. “As late
as possible” doesn’t define a standard for the industry. Does it mean that I have to write a Java applet to count the number of times my ad actually displays in the browser? Or do I count fulfilled
HTTP requests from the ad server? You can see how this might cause a problem. These guidelines need to evolve into standards we can all live with.
- Pick a rich media format and
standardize - Drop by the IAB’s site and take a look at their rich media guidelines. Why are they so broad? Why don’t they provide much guidance beyond file sizes and size specs? It’s because they
have too many formats to cover. I think it may be time to pick a format or two and issue standards for ads of that type. May I suggest Flash? It has very high penetration, it’s very good at delivering
animation in small file sizes, lots of sites take it, and most of the credible rich media formats are based on it or utilize it to some degree. Why not “Rich Media Standards for Flash Ads?” This way,
the IAB can specify not only ad sizes and initial loads, but also what can be streamed, how the ads should be tracked and much more.
- Email marketing certification program - With the
assistance of a buying-side organization like the AAAA or the DMA, the IAB should develop guiding principles for email marketers. Standardizing double opt-in would be a good start, but the guidelines
should also outline best practices for managing unsubscribes, renting names, preserving privacy and such. The buy-side organization should urge all advertisers to ensure that all vendors comply with
the guiding principles for e-mail marketing. If we don’t do something like this quickly, email marketing will lose its effectiveness when the public fails to make a distinction between legitimate
email marketing and spam.
These agenda items address two core problems that the online ad industry is currently facing:
- We need standards in place in order to streamline
our processes, such that online advertising companies have a shot at implementing a sustainable business.
- There are too many “ethically challenged” online ad companies looking to make a
quick buck in the industry, at the expense of the rest of us who see the Internet as a valuable commercial medium in the long term.
Given these problems, I think these four items would be
on my agenda for 2002 if I were president of the IAB. What would your agenda look like? Let us know on the Spin Board.