Enough Is Enough!

Is anyone else incredibly frustrated with the fundamental issues we’re still grappling with?

The nightly news reports multipronged attacks and battles across enemy lines. In our little digital marketing world, we fight a similarly multifaceted war. Everything from agreement on a basic definition of an ad impression to standard ad sizes, rich media standards, and terms and conditions are still on the to-do list. Granted, online advertising is in relative infancy. But after seven or eight years, I would have thought we’d be further along.

As digital marketers fight for budgets and a “seat at the adult table,” the issue frustrating me most is a collective inability to agree on the definition of an ad impression. How can we continue to ask clients to invest in this industry if we can’t agree on the basic currency of the medium? I attended a meeting of a leading industry organization recently. The subject was at the top of the agenda.

We’d gotten input from most of the key stakeholders: leading ad-serving companies, the Media Rating Council (MRC), the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), and the agency community. We spoke in terms of “302 redirects” (a server sends a browser the location of a requested ad rather than sending the ad itself) and audits, Web beacons, and ad requests. It’s amazing how many outstanding issues there are on the subject.

Forget about counting rich media ad impressions (now roughly 25 percent of all ads served, according to DoubleClick’s 2002 end-of-year ad-serving report). We still can’t get our act together counting simple GIF and JPEG ads. By the time we get that figured out, we’ll be onto streaming audio and video ads, and rich media applications — adding new layers of complexity. The time to solve this is now.

This doesn’t minimize the challenges we face in this area to arrive at a resolution. Technological hurdles are presented by competing ad platforms, multiple serving technologies, and Web spiders, to name a few. There are financial barriers. Costs are associated with standardization, accreditation, and audits. Publishers will face costs to standardize ad-serving solutions. Who pays for this? Why should they pay? As an industry, we must stand unified. The cost of inaction is ultimately far greater than the cost of standardization.

Ad-size standardization is another area that seems a never-ending saga. One of the most mind-boggling statistics in DoubleClick’s report is it served over 11,000 different ad sizes throughout the year. Inefficiency is a key barrier to growing a business. When we ask advertisers to devote significant resources to resizing and customizing creative across multiple properties, we’re begging for budget cuts. Creative budgets cannot exceed media budgets, in online or any other medium.

There’s a stake in the ground, thanks to the universal ad package the IAB announced late last year. The universal ad package reduces the number of ad units to four basic sizes, to be adopted by all major online publishers (we hope). The cynic in me says going from 11,000 sizes to 4 may be asking too much of the industry. We’ll have to wait and see. The adaptation timeline to roll out the new ad package described back in December was 12 to 18 months (in my mind, too long already). Will life be simpler for our creative colleagues this holiday season?

There’s no doubt we’re living in unprecedented times, in the real world and in our little corner of it. If we’re to realize the promise we’ve evangelized for years, we must act now. We have made real progress, but there’s much more to do. Let’s end some basic issues threatening to destroy our very foundation. Enough is enough.

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