The early days of online media have long been described as “the Wild West,” and with good reason. Little true media planning went on, people bought and sold ad space like mad, and ad creative could amount to anything the publisher was willing to accept. As Internet advertising grew in popularity and real campaigns came online, agencies struggled with media planning turned on its head: instead of the ad concept and creative coming first for which the media buyer had to only locate placements, the lack of standards meant the media plan almost had to be developed before creative development could be started.
To rectify this problem, in August 2002, the Internet advertising trade association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, set out to develop ad unit standards. One of the results was the Universal Ad Package (UAP) and other standardized units that define ad placement sizes to this day. The problem remains, however, that sizes are only part of the equation, and as online advertising gets more complex, although the IAB has done a good job of keeping up with new media formats (rich media, video, e-mail and lead gen, mobile, social media, and the like), not all publishers conform to the same standards, while at the same time, creative teams continue to push the envelope.
Complex Ad Creative Ramifications for Media Planners
These days, because of standards, ad concepting and development can happen in conjunction with media planning, but still not without challenges. The more complex the ad and varied the media plan, the more likely the project manager should anticipate (and build time in for) technical issues, greater need for departmental collaboration, and more ad testing. Tags, scripts, and ad serving limitations can all wreak havoc on a campaign launch if not properly planned for.
Media Planner Proactivity
Certainly, there are things good media planners should be doing to help minimize these kinds of campaign issues:
- Keep up with IAB ad standards; check in regularly as the IAB updates these standards and its publisher members try to conform to them.
- Update creative specs frequently – even if you’ve included a publisher in your plan before, with each new plan it’s a good idea to check to be sure their creative specs haven’t changed.
- Bone up on understanding technical requirements such as clickTags, ROI tags, Flash tags, action scripts, and variable trace methods. Here’s some basic help:
- ClickTags: used in Flash banner ads to define the destination URL and which enable the capturing of data such as clicks and ROI (define) actions.
- ROI tags: a single pixel placed on the client’s site to capture unique actions and measure campaign effectiveness by placement and publisher.
- Append action script tags: a sequence of script that links each individual clickable area within a single ad creative to rules/parameters within third-party sites, which define the destination URL address.
- Work closely with the creative team during development. Give them the most up-to-date specs and have a clear understanding of the ad functionality, goal, and destination page as they envision them. Know about many ad units they plan to put into development and of what type (animated, Flash, rich media, video, and data capture). Try to get access to the ad creative while it’s in development and if possible, a version for testing before everything is finalized.
- The more complex or unfamiliar the creative unit will be, the more time you need to build into your plan for unanticipated delays before launch. If you’re pressed for time-to-launch, advise the creative team against developing such complex ads.
- If a simultaneous PPC (define) campaign will be running, what part of the display campaign needs to carry over into the PPC one and will be planning and managing the latter? If not your company, do you need to coordinate with a second party?
- Don’t assume portability across networks or publishers for the very same ad.
- Know that Google’s Content Network ad specs are not aligned with other publishers and networks serving display ads (and they don’t make it very easy to centralize and find the information you’re looking for; better to ask your Google rep if you have one).
As digital ad creative ever-evolves, you can’t help but be excited by what kind of user and advertiser experience it can deliver, but at the same time, this innovation breeds challenges. The more you recognize and plan for this fact, the more likely you’ll minimize problem campaigns.
Meet Hollis Thomases at SES New York, March 22-26, 2010 at the Hilton New York. SES and ClickZ are part of Incisive Media.