People seldom talk about digital advertising, and when they do it's usually to complain about intrusive advertising. While criticism of annoying web ads isn't going away, a cadre of premium publishers, spearheaded by the Online Publishers Association (OPA), is betting that bigger, bolder new ads will spawn a creative revolution that will get users talking about online ads they love, not those they despise.
While achieving more respect -- and performance -- from premium ads has been a longtime goal for agencies and publishers alike, OPA's recent announcement brings much needed scale to the issue. According to OPA, nearly 30 publishers have committed to experimenting with the new super-sized ads before July 1-- a group that includes such notables as The New York Times, CBS Interactive, and Conde Nast Digital. But with an estimated reach of 66 percent of the total internet audience, media buyers shouldn't confuse this group with an ad network, says Pam Horan, president of OPA.
While reach is a big selling point for OPA, the larger and, at times, more aggressive ads are about bringing a richer palette to digital agencies, which have long labored inside the confines of rather small, IAB-standard ad units.
"When you talk to people about the creativity of web ads right now, you hear a lot about Apple, and little else," Horan says. "[But] there isn't a ton of creative [online] that has resonated in the way that creative has evolved on other platforms."
Horan thinks that's because some of the best creative is tucked away on microsites outside the publisher's main environment, where users are most likely to engage with the branded message.
But what makes these new, bigger ad units worth talking about? Surely it can't be size alone.
What are the ad units?
If OPA's experiment works, three terms are likely to get a lot more attention from creative shops, media buyers, and even brand marketers. At a recommended dimension of 336 x 860, the so-called "Fixed Panel" is a large banner that scrolls up and down the page in time with the user's own movement. The "XXL Box" (recommended dimension is 468 x 648) offers a magazine-style page-turn functionality and the ability to include video. Finally, the "Pushdown" (recommended dimension 970 x 418) opens to display the advertisement and then rolls up to the top of the page; the unit supports a range of rich media and video options.
While each ad is designed to give agencies a larger palette, the result is expected to be anything but standard. According to Horan, the ad units are a starting point for publishers and agencies.
"Each publisher offers its own unique environment," Horan explains. "What these ad units do is allow the agency to have a larger share of voice within the publisher's space."
And that's certainly something that will be popular with brands, according to Sean Cheyney, VP of marketing at AccuQuote, who says that larger ad units are exciting because they give the brand more opportunities to tell its story.
Those opportunities, combined with the scale offered by a big chunk of the web's premium publishers, could usher in a new era for digital advertising, according to some. But Cheyney, who praises the larger format, says he does worry that a more aggressive approach -- if used improperly -- could have a negative impact on a brand's message. And that means that "the next best thing for digital" could just as easily turn into a bigger, more aggressive version of the hated pop-up.