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IAB Proposes Standard for In-App Ads

  |  September 8, 2011   |  Comments

An attempt to overcome incompatible APIs that create hassle for advertisers and others.

The IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence aims to bring some logic to the wild and wooly world of advertising within mobile applications.

On Wednesday, it released Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions (MRAID) for public comment. This proposed standard would let agencies run the same creative across applications from different publishers -- as long as the publisher complies with the specification.

Today, publishers and application providers often use proprietary, incompatible APIs that force advertisers to re-write the programming behind their ad creative several times for a single campaign.

Says Jami Michelle Lawrence, associate director, mobile marketing for Publicis Modem USA, "I spend lots of time with mobile media partners from app developers to mobile ad networks to rich media partners. They are all great and appeasing and willing to do anything to help us. However, there is no standard. The amount of creative options can be confusing for a media buyer who does not have the time to learn or manage them all."

Dani Nadel, president of Publicis Modem USA, and Patrick Clarke, ECD, are both active participants in the IAB taskforce for mobile.

It's a pain for ad networks, too.

"Mobclix works with 35-plus ad networks, and each will leverage a different rich media vendor or have its own platform," says Krishna Subramanian, co-founder of Velti Mobclix Exchange, a mobile ad exchange. "It causes a lot of confusion for networks and ad agencies. They have to build each ad out in so many different formats to reach different audiences."

MRAID defines a standard set of commands, known as an application programming interface, or API, that would let agencies and ad servers design and deliver the same ads to diverse app publishers.

The API is designed to work with HTML5 and JavaScript, and will let developers creating rich media ads communicate what the ads do with the apps into which they're served - for example expand, resize or access device functions like the accelerometer.

It's also flexible and forward-looking, according to Arthur Chaparyan, CEO and co-founder of mobile marketing company CornerBlue. He appreciates that MRAID allows for extensions.

"The SDK provides a base structure and guidelines for working with ads on mobile devices. If you want to add additional features, it's open and can handle those kinds of things. With mobile being so new, having an all-encompassing SDK would be premature," Chaparyan says.

For example, he believes that near-field communications will be an important tool, allowing marketers to incorporate ads and payments into mobile apps. MRAID doesn't provide a means of doing billing or payment, but does provide the ability to create an extension on top of the SDK to do so.

MRAID is just enough, he adds. "Right now, this is a good starting point. We definitely need more standards in all areas, but it's too early. Any other SDK that was added would make it more difficult to innovate. The industry is very fragmented right now, and you can't force that to resolve."

The IAB doesn't plan to implement a formal certification process for MRAID-compliant ads or platforms, according to Joe Laszlo, deputy director of the IAB's Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence.

" The compliance piece is still a work in progress," he admits. " I don't think we'll have a major audit process. I see us potentially as a mediator or arbitrator if there are disputes."

The IAB definitely will provide a set of testing tools including a sample ad that can be used to test a rich media vendor's platform. On the creative side, the IAB will provide a way for ad designers to make sure they've applied MRAID correctly.

This is not the first stab at standardizing rich media for mobile. In 2010, a consortium of companies led by The Weather Channel and Crisp Wireless (now Crisp Media) came together for a similar project: Open Rich Media for Mobile Advertising (ORMMA). Although ORMMA self-described as vendor-neutral, that leadership was problematic for other rich media vendors, according to Subramanian.

Subramanian says, "When you get the most adoption across all the ad networks and agencies, that helps drive these open standards. When one rich media vendor is leading an effort, you lose a bit of that neutrality."

This April, ORMMA and the IAB agreed to work together, with the IAB renaming the project, taking the lead and including other industry segments. Participants in the IAB working group include The New York Times Digital, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo, and Google, among others. ORMMA's draft API became the basis for MRAID.

MRAID continues the IAB's early work in standardizing display ads for the web. Creating uniformity of ad units across publishers, as well as standards for measurement, opened the door to today's ad networks and exchanges.

ClickZ reported in June 2010 that the IAB had launched a task force to recommend standards and best practices for display ads on tablets and e-readers.

The draft is open for public comment until September 30, 2011. After that, the MRAID working group will meet to evaluate comments received, make any needed changes to the draft MRAID spec, and release a final version of MRAID 1.0.

The IAB will continue to advocate one-on-one, as well as in public information campaigns to encourage adoption. Several rich media vendors in the working group are already making changes to their technology to enable the MRAID APIs, according to Laszlo, a process he expects to take between six to ten weeks, depending in part on the vendor's product cycle.

"In the long run, everyone should benefit from MRAID," Laszlo says. "It's true that the rich media enablers today are the ones that have a bit of work to do today before the whole industry derives the benefit."

Widespread adoption, says Subramanian, comes down to the actual advertisers and agencies. "If they start using it," he says, "it will be beneficial all the way down the food chain."

That seems highly likely. Says Lawrence, "Getting us to a mobile rich media standard, we will be able to create all our digital ads in tandem without having to have the media plan and media partners confirmed. This will save time and save money."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Kuchinskas

Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.

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