IAB Issues More Guidelines; Industry Still Doesn't Care

The IAB on Monday (Feb. 16) announced that it had compliance on recommended guidelines for rich media advertising units from more than 30 of the seven jillion web sites that offer advertising. Those who are "compliant" are the usual suspects. Among them:,, America Online, Cartoon Network, CBS MarketWatch, MSN, USAToday, Weather, and Yahoo!

The announcement reminded me of a similar one made late in September of 2003 that the collaboration of the Media Rating Council (MRC), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), and the IAB had resulted in the issuance of new, more detailed guidelines for interactive advertising campaign measurement.

Or, the announcement made August 14, 2003 by the IAB that, indeed, Rich Media guidelines had been issued that day.

Or, perhaps the one made in April of 2003, when the IAB announced the new Universal Ad Package (UAP), a creative suite of four ad sizes that will enable advertisers to reach the majority of each online publisher's audience.



Now, I'm a big fan of initiatives that seek standardization in this industry. And I think it is important to have established guidelines the industry should follow so as to bring order to chaos. But as much as I like the customization of the Web, it is this capability as applied to individual use that makes the medium powerful, much more so than do the kinds of creative units agencies can produce and run on behalf of advertisers.

I have always found the argument that the customizability of the Web and a site's ability to mold ad units to the whim and desire of the advertiser as a means of demonstrating maximum flexibility and accommodation to be disingenuous. So often sites have thought about how best to cater their offers to advertisers without thinking that maybe users don't really care how innovative a site's ad sizes are, or whether or not they are running 300x250 or 250x250.

As marketers, we are always making the same mistake that somehow people will magically love our advertising. What we don't realize is that almost no one likes advertising. People prefer good advertising to bad advertising, and a few nerds like most of us reading the trades are big fans, but for the most part, humans aren't big fans of being marketed to. You ask the average user what they like and they'll tell you no ads at all. Maximizing effectiveness (this would entail the result of product being sold) while minimizing offense should be the chief concern of commercial media, period.

And finally, the fact that what the IAB released this past Monday are simply "guidelines" as they have always been doesn't help agencies, advertisers, or publishers much. "Guideline" means no one has to do anything. Like the Pirate's Code in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl," Geoffrey Rush's character says that "It's more like a guideline." Each site can still have dozens of different kinds of ad placements if they want to. Thankfully, the big guys no longer have the same limitless collection of unit type they once did. And I guess the purpose of the guidelines is to reflect this shift.

But as Nate Elliot of Jupiter Research, who was quoted this week in Monday's MediaDailyNews said, "It's surprising that it took the IAB over two years to develop such basic standards. In general, the IAB seems incapable of driving industry standards--whether it's rich media, terms and conditions, or impression counting."

The reason, of course, is that the IAB--or any industry organization, for that matter--has little interest in driving standardization. Like all industry collectives in most categories, leading is not the point. Following the money is what they do, and if the money is going towards ad unit sizes 'X,' 'Y,' and 'Z,' then that's where an industry cabal will go. This is true for any change in just about any business. Risk is no longer a part of making decisions and advancing agendas in business or marketing. Any move, any public declaration in support of change, comes now only when there is nothing to be lost, and is always more of a reflection of where we've been rather than where we are going.

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