Bigger Is Better!

Just two short years ago, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) issued guidelines for a gaggle of new online ad units, introducing skyscrapers, among other larger and more prominent formats, to the world.

Since then, online ad sizes and the popularity of larger formats with advertisers has been growing at a steady pace. DoubleClick recently reported skyscraper ads accounted for 8.3 percent of the total volume of ads they served in the fourth quarter, second only to standard 468 x 60 banners. In a bold move, The New York Times has hinted that, starting in April, its online edition will be featuring new, half-page magazine-style ads.

What’s behind the gradual switch to larger ad units? In addition to offering advertisers more space to relay their messages (a benefit the IAB cited as a motivator in its decision to increase ad sizes), they’re also believed to be more effective. For starters, bigger units are more noticeable. They stand out from the ad clutter that plagues so many sites. The novelty of larger formats triggers interest in Internet users who are accustomed to seeing standard banner units — a typical reaction with new placements.

The extent to which larger ads can pique consumer interest has been evaluated by numerous companies as of late, as advertisers and publishers seek to analyze their true value. Such was the inspiration for a new study released by Tribal Fusion, an online ad network representing over 600 targeted and niche Web sites, including the Chicago Sun-Times and Homes.com.

Last December, the company tested the effectiveness of “leader boards,” 728 x 90 pixel horizontal ads almost two and a half times larger than the standard 468 x 60 to which it was compared. Although different to the core, the units used in the test were designed to look as similar as possible, featuring virtually identical creative. When all was said and done, the larger ads performed an average of 50 percent better than the traditional banners, outdoing the 468 x 60s in both CTR levels and post-click results. Not bad for the new unit on the block.

The leader board was introduced last year as part of the IAB’s “Universal Ad Package,” the most recent ad unit guidelines to come out of the organization. Again, units were noticeably bigger but surprisingly didn’t include the standard 468 x 60 banner, which the IAB is seemingly weeding out of the mix. The package is expected to be officially presented to agencies this month. It was initially released with the recommendation publishers adopt the units across all Web properties, reworking sites if necessary to accommodate them over the next 12 to 18 months.

Again, the motivation for going bigger stems from positive research results. Although no specific statistics were provided, the IAB says, “We know that larger ad sizes work better.” According to a press release, its research has shown “the larger format sizes, which are naturally more visible and provide more creative freedom, did prove to be significantly more effective than smaller, standard banners across all campaigns.”

As time goes on, larger ad units are sure to supplant the traditional button and banner ads we’re used to working with. It’s already starting with that poor, unwanted 468 x 60. Luckily, if these diverse studies hold true, media buyers and advertisers emerge as the big winners. No more trying to pack detailed visuals into infinitesimal boxes or lamenting over once-eloquent copy that now reads like a cheap spam subject line. Bigger ad units mean more creative space in which to work. That, in turn, means a much better shot at getting the results our clients are after.

Advertisers will save money on ad production. This expense should be significantly reduced once sites standardize ad units. Imagine the simplicity of coordinating placements and flight dates for just a handful of ad units in each campaign instead of juggling dozens of sizes and formats on a multitude of different Web sites.

We’ll soon find out what the industry thinks when the IAB releases the feedback it’s been gathering over the past few months. I, for one, am anticipating the universal arrival of bigger and more effective ad units. Let’s see if our clients don’t feel the same way.

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