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A guide to IAB's new standard ad units

A guide to IAB's new standard ad units Peter Minnium

The leaderboard (728x90) and medium rectangle (300x250) display ad units mark their tenth and eleventh respective anniversaries as IAB standards this year. What a great run they've had -- too good, really. Despite the enormous advances in ad technology, bandwidth, and computers over the last 10 years, these two "classics" remain the predominate ad units on today's web, accounting for more than half of all display volume. Like the bearded character from Washington Irving's short story, "Rip Van Winkle," who napped for twenty years, the industry has been unconscious to the passage of time. How else can we explain the lack of widespread innovation? Certainly the collective wisdom of the digital ad community didn't consciously decide, "let's just continue to design ads 728 pixels wide, even though we no longer design web pages to that width."

There's no wonder then why interactive display advertising has failed to crack the vault of brand advertising spending: Our 10-year-old standard ad units available at scale just aren't competitive against TV or even print -- by a wide margin.

This changes now, with the introduction of the new IAB standard ad unit portfolio, the first major revamp of the standards since 2003 when the leaderboard was adopted. IAB standard ad units created the modern, scalable digital advertising industry, with more than 80 percent of display ads sold following the IAB standards. But consumers have fallen prey to "banner blindness." So, the IAB brought dozens of agencies and publishers together to reshape the digital ad landscape in its "Rising Stars" program. This two-year initiative uncovered the industry's best creative-friendly units and has now made them part of the IAB approved package. We also retired 11 worn units during the process.

For the first time ever, the new portfolio offers marketers a range of IAB standard ad units to deploy against their different objectives. Whether a campaign is brand focused and measured by engagement and attitudinal lift or performance oriented and optimized for conversion, the new ad unit portfolio provides the creative canvasses at scale to reach one's goals.

The newly added units, "Display Rising Stars," offer more space and more functionality to tell bigger, bolder brand stories: Different configurations offer marketers new ways to capture and keep consumers' attention. For the first time, IAB standards include full page units -- putting richer, more vibrant brand ads in front of millions of consumers at once. Size isn't the only thing that matters. The IAB's new portfolio enables rich media and social connectivity to scale without customization costs.

This new portfolio calls for a new measurement currency to replace the dreaded click-through rate. Many of the new ad units are designed to maximize rich engagement on the publisher's site without leaving to a landing page -- so measuring how many people leave the experience (by clicking through) is not only an inappropriate metric, but also may be negatively correlated with success. While the Holy Grail for all advertisers is, of course, an increase in sales, brand marketers understand that advertising works via an impact chain: Attention links to emotive response, attitudinal change, and, finally, the behavioral change of a purchase. As an industry, we have the ability today to measure the all-important first link in this chain: attention (reliably, quantitatively, and at scale for every ad served) via interaction rate and interaction time metrics. The IAB did just this via research on the new additions to its standard ad unit portfolio. The results were striking: The interaction rate was 2.5 times higher and the interaction time was twice as long for the new units versus their more than 10-year-old brethren (based on half a second purposeful dwell).

Unlike Mr. Van Winkle's fictional nineteenth century Catskill mountain environment, today's interactive advertising landscape changes with the speed of light. With the rapid adoption of the new IAB standard ad units, we can quickly ensure that the only resemblance our industry has to Rip is the fashionable facial hair.

Peter Minnium is the head of brand initiatives for the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Business people group walks" image via Shutterstock.

As the Head of Brand Initiatives, Peter leads a series of initiatives designed to address the under-representation of creative brand advertising online. He was formerly Managing Director of Lowe Worldwide, the global creative agency network of the...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Jon Clarke

2012, April 17

I guess we missed that initiative here, but certainly the www.Adbars.net dynamic ad format range has shown that more engaging ads are worth the minimal investment, it's just the publishers that need now to embrace these formats and realise their potential for revenue generation when all they see is their current display inventory pricing bombing south due to market forces.