ANA, 4As Launch Digital Ad Codes

The nation’s two largest advertising groups are looking to advances in technology to improve cross-media accountability, with the creation of a new body to administer the first-ever digital identification codes for all types of advertisements.

On Monday, the New York-based groups — the Association of American Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers — introduced Advertising Digital Identification, a company charged with overseeing a system of unique codes for every advertisement in every medium.

The idea is that by creating unique, computer-readable codes, Advertising Digital Identification will enhance advertisers’ and publishers’ ability to use new and future developments in advertising technology to extend some of the benefits now associated with the Internet to traditional media like broadcast, print, radio and even outdoor.

Ad-ID, as the company is also known, will administer the 12-digit coding system. Initially, Ad-ID codes which replace Industry Standard Coding Identification, a 30-year-old television advertising coding scheme restricted by both the limited possible combinations of its eight-digit format, and also by the fact that it’s not machine-readable.

Ad-ID is backward-compatible with ISCI while providing for 2.8 trillion combinations, rather than ISCI’s four million. That’s in addition to a number of benefits that derive from Ad-IDs being digital: the codes are transferable to other media and link to information about the ad housed at Ad-ID’s Web site.

Because an ad’s metadata — which can include the ad’s agency, producer, director, trafficking information, where it ran, and so on — is stored centrally at the Ad-ID.org site, it’s accessible to anyone who needs it.

At the same time, the Ad-ID code system is expected to be compatible with asset databases, ad servers, electronic data interchange tools, analysis tools, and so on. As a result, the AAAA and ANA see Ad-IDs serving a wide variety of roles — from simply replacing ISCI for clearing ads on network television to serving as the basis of an advertiser’s global asset management system.

The groups expected Ad-ID to be fully operational by October.

But the groups have still greater hopes for the coding system as the advertising industry’s technology continues to improve. In the future, the ANA and AAAA expect to see the codes serving as the basis for software that verifies immediately whether ads ran according to contract, that track campaigns across media, and that help agencies and advertisers better compute a return on investment from campaigns.

“Ad-ID will help migrate the current Industry Standard Coding Identification to a digital platform and holds great potential for the industry,” said AAAA President and CEO O. Burtch Drake. “Finally, here’s a system that allows advertisers, agencies, the media, and suppliers to be fully connected and communicating in real time — and we’re confident this new ID system will revolutionize the industry the way the UPC code revolutionized the grocery business.”

The move to create a new ad-tracking system comes as a way to maintain order amid an increasingly fragmented media marketplace. It also represents a significant stride toward establishing the means to track and quantify returns on traditional forms of advertising — long touted by the pioneers in Internet advertising as their medium’s chief differentiator.

More recently, the difficulties in calculating the ROI from mainstream advertising has become one of the industry’s most pressing sticking points, and one of the reasons that direct marketing continues to fare fairly well in the current economic downturn, while brand advertising budgets suffer.

“Given the new media landscape, we knew we had to create one coding standard to ensure that our advertisers and their agencies would not face a confusing array of multiple standards to identify their advertising assets,” said ANA Chief Executive John Sarsen, Jr. “Ultimately, Ad-ID will facilitate a higher level of accountability.”

Ad-ID will be run out of AAAA headquarters in New York, with operations and finance being handled in the AAAA’s Charlotte office. Heading up the company will be Larry Smith of Live Idea, Inc., who served as business consultant and software developer on the Ad-ID project. John Kaiser, formerly head of marketing at Boston-based Web technology firm MarketPlace Technologies, will serve as the company’s senior vice president of marketing and sales.

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