A renaissance in digital display advertising is underway which will finally put an end to the tyranny of the banner.
Smart publishers, brand marketers and agencies will participate in creating the new digital advertising order by adopting and experimenting with new mobile, native, digital video and, yes, browser banner formats like the IAB Rising Stars. (Disclosure: IAB is my employer.)
A digital ad ghetto, consisting of the right rail and leaderboard, became embedded in the digital advertising world early and has stubbornly held on despite advances in device forms and capabilities, bandwidth and user expectations.
These lowest-common-denominator formats have been further supported by the advance of programmatic trading, which requires easily trafficked ads and, in fact, chokes on most advanced formats. It is deeply and sadly ironic that the best technological minds are being funded fanatically by venture capitalists in efforts supporting formats that are over a decade old. (Yes, the 300×250 and 728×90 standards were established just after the turn of the millennium!)
The domination of the banner at the page margins will take time to weaken, but it is clear that it is just a matter of time before it fades to oblivion.
Accelerating this decline are IAB Rising Stars, the larger, richer ad formats that take up more of the page either initially or upon expansion; mobile advertising in general, where despite valiant attempts by the mobile banner, an ad ghetto will never take hold; native advertising forms, which put advertising in the content well; and digital video advertising, which is in the user’s activity stream by design not on the margins.
There is a growing realization among publishers that the entire page can be “open for business.” Brand marketers and agencies are similarly discovering that their creative canvas need not be limited to placements at the edge of the frame.
As ever, realizing the potential of these new ad forms will require herculean efforts across the ecosystem to enable the most efficient creation, serving, buying, selling, measuring and optimizing possible. Significant progress has been made already, with leading industry players participating in the development of these new forms. Here is a synopsis of where each stands and suggestions for involvement.
6 New Display Standard Ad Formats
The standard bearer for the display renaissance is the IAB Rising Stars program. Over the past two years, the IAB Standard Ad Unit portfolio has undergone a dramatic transformation and is now 70% new.
The process started by delisting 11 of the 18 existing standards and adding, through an open competition judged by agencies, six new formats:
These formats offer rich interactivity on the page and, as such, have proven effective at driving interaction and brand lift.
To measure the new units’ ability to deliver for brand advertisers, IAB conducted proprietary research on attentiveness, emotive response and brand lift with campaigns for AT&T, Jeep and Westin Hotels & Resorts. The research findings revealed that consumers interact significantly more with Rising Stars than with incumbent standard ad units (such as the leaderboard and medium rectangle).
Users were 2.5 times more likely to interact with a Rising Stars, spent twice as much time interacting, and took less time to react to the ad. Along with increased interaction, eye-tracking showed that users viewed Rising Stars longer (31% more).
In addition, study respondents found the Rising Stars ads to be more “enjoyable” and “engaging,” and they were more likely to say the Rising Stars “improved my impression of this website” and their opinion of the brand.
If your web page or media plan consists of only the older IAB standards like the Universal Ad Package, consider yourself officially old-fashioned. Style Guides and Tech Specs are available for each of these new units, while all leading rich-media vendors have built them into their platforms and can easily produce and traffic them at scale.
While the IAB Rising Stars were a deliberate effort to start a display renaissance, the unplanned rise of native advertising is playing an equally important role. This darling of new media rocketed onto the scene in 2013 like it was shot out of a cannon.
In response, the IAB created a Native Advertising Task Force, a group of companies 80+ members strong which came together to establish a playbook to frame the native advertising space and which will continue to collaborate on guidelines and standards.
This group is bullish on the future of native advertising for many reasons, including that it puts advertising in the users’ activity stream, where TV and magazine ads have been forever, while also establishing the first-ever primarily brand advertising format.
Challenges to the growth of this ad form abound, however. The task force cited the need for more and higher quality ad content, the inevitable rise of native ad avoidance, issues with transparency and disclosure, the strain native ads put on organic social feeds, and the challenge of scale.
Despite these challenges (which the ecosystem is addressing), native advertising is here to stay, putting ad formats in the content well and in user activity streams. The proverbial toothpaste is out of the tube, and ad formats will not ever return entirely to the side of the page, outside of the content well.
The wonder of the mobile phenomenon and our relationship with such devices will be a key driver of the display ad renaissance, as consumers simply will not tolerate or respond to poor ads that do not live up to their expectations on these devices. The 320×50 mobile banner will have a much shorter lifespan and much less influence than the desktop banner, and this is a good thing.
While the industry is in the early stages of determining the best ad experiences on untethered devices, at present, full-page ads (like the IAB Full Page Flex, below) and in-feed formats appear to be winners.
Given the intimacy and utility of mobile devices, consumers’ expectations for meaningful ad experiences are much greater than on the desktop. The result of this higher bar will likely be more care and effectiveness, with the knowledge and best practices spilling from mobile back to the desktop.
The fourth driver of the display ad renaissance is digital video. At first glance, this notion may seem strange, as digital video in a program stream (i.e., “TV on the internet”) hardly seems like a display ad format. If I were writing this even a year ago, that might have been the case.
However, digital video advertising today appears regularly in organic, effective ways out of a video stream. Perhaps the best example is the Billboard format that is used extensively to showcase video:
In addition, the growing acceptance of in-feed advertising is beginning to open new spaces for digital video ads — in a stream of content that is not video-based. The most well-known of these placements is the Facebook Premium Video Ad, and we will surely see more.
The Digital Advertising Renaissance
A renaissance is underway in digital advertising. The digital advertising “Middle Age” characterized by the old-fashioned banner and the ad ghetto placement is ending. New ad experiences in keeping with users’ expectations of their devices and brands will flourish.
Smart publishers, brand marketers, and agencies are participating in the creation of this new world order by adopting and experimenting with fresh mobile, native, digital video and desktop formats. Which side of history will you be on?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.