Are We Ready for Standards?

All too often, I find people in the interactive business seeking standards. “What does a standard rich media ad look like?” and “What’s the standard pricing for email?” are questions I get asked all the time. I have a macro on my home computer that’s designed to respond to the inevitable, “What’s the industry standard click rate for banner ads?” question that shows up in my email box several times a week.

Advertisers use the Internet in so many different ways for commercial messaging that any standard answer you might give to the above questions could be essentially meaningless.

I don’t want to write an entire column that bashes the notion of standardization. I think that certain standards are very beneficial. Who remembers online media planning before the IAB/CASIE banner standards? What a pain… the budgets for ad resizings were bigger than the media budgets sometimes. ;-)

However, I do want to make the point this week that interactive media doesn’t usually adhere to the concept of standardization very well. The commercial explosion of the web came about in 1994. Here we are halfway into 2000, and our industry still doesn’t have standard definitions of basic concepts like ad impressions or clicks.

Is this because our industry is lazy and can’t regulate itself? No. We’ve tried to standardize these concepts – the trick is getting everyone to agree to use the standard. While an online publisher might consider an ad click to be a simple user click on an ad graphic, an advertiser might claim that a click isn’t a click until that user arrives at his web site.

Could it be that an entire industry is growing faster than any of its predecessors without the benefit of standardizing several of its most basic concepts? You bet.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a fan of the laissez-faire approach to online media standards. That is, standards shouldn’t exist unless the industry can’t get by without them. To take another approach (IMHO) limits creativity in a media marketplace that could stand to use some fresh ideas.

A couple weeks back, the IAB held the inaugural meeting of its Wireless Advertising Council. On the agenda for the first meeting were several topics pertaining to the development of guidelines for advertising on wireless devices, including creative standards and ad delivery.

Not to be overly critical (after all, the IAB did save us from pointless banner resizing), but isn’t the IAB a little early to the game? Last I checked, the number of U.S. interactive agencies that have successfully launched a wireless ad campaign could be counted on one hand. Aren’t we a little early for standards? The browser on my Nextel phone is running neck-and-neck with Lynx for the title of “lamest browser ever.” I think it’s hard enough in the text-based wireless world to do something compelling even without the notion of standards. Methinks the IAB is a bit early.

Maybe if we first asked ourselves, “What is the most creative way to efficiently achieve my advertising objectives?” instead of inquiring about the “industry standards,” we would come up with some truly original and compelling ideas for interactive advertising. My advice is to worry about what works for you and your clients, not what works for everybody else.

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