IAB Set to Weigh In on Impressions, Other Hot Topics

Big things are afoot at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, with the New York-based trade association expected to reveal its eagerly-awaited guidelines for impression measurement during Tuesday’s general meeting in New York City.

Impressions, or more specifically, the controversy surrounding differences in recording impressions, remains one of the most vexing issues plaguing online media players.

Since the vast majority of online ad deals are booked based on impressions, the issue, many believe, is central to proving to major brand advertisers that the Web is a stable, maturing media industry — on par or exceeding traditional outlets in delivering a reliable result.

To recap, the issue arises because the different parties involved in serving Web ads often use different methods for counting how many impressions they’ve served in a campaign.

Many publishers instinctively count impressions as equivalent to page views — counted when a user’s Web browser requests page elements from the site’s server. Ad networks often count impressions as being served when traffic is redirected from the publisher’s site to their own ad counting server. Other ad servers measure an impression when the ad actually appears, fully-loaded in the browser. Due to a cancelled page request, a server malfunction, heavy Web traffic, or any one of a myriad of other problems, a situation could arise in which one party in the process counts an impression, while a later one does not.

In fact, the problem is so bad that sources close to one major third-party ad server told internetnews.com last week that its software solution routinely counted about 50 percent fewer impressions than did several publishers that it served.

In mid-October, the IAB took tentative steps toward a solution, releasing an online media-buying glossary intended to combat miscommunication and set some standards for Web advertising terminology. However, the group shied away from actually defining an impression — that is, specifying where in the process of serving an online an impression is counted — although it did elucidate the various steps in the process.

On Tuesday, the IAB also is expected to report on the progress of several related initiatives, such as audience measurement and weeding out illegitimate traffic from sources such as search engine spiders (a matter on which the group has been working with organizations like the Audit Bureau of Circulations and the Advertising Research Foundation’s Digital Media Measurement Council).

The group is also likely to report on the success of its rich media guidelines, which were released in early August to mete out specifications governing load sizes and functionality. Several prominent technology players criticized the effort as failing to “push the envelope” of online creative, while others, along the same lines, felt that the guidelines actually would contribute to industry stagnation. (The IAB, meanwhile, took the position that standards would help publishers, networks and rep firms better sell rich media inventory to advertisers.)

The IAB also is expected to face some tough questions over its new friendly relationship with Gator.com, an online software player that it only months ago had called “unfair” and “deceptive.” Chiefly, IAB leadership criticized Gator’s practice of placing its own banners on top of those already sold by Web publishers, and said it planned to ask federal regulators to investigate.

Now the IAB and Gator seem to have struck an agreement to work together on developing a modified version of its software, which would sell publishers’ unsold inventory. (Gator, which had filed a suit against the IAB, agreed to place its legal actions on hold.)

The change in policy came less than a month after the appointment of Greg Stuart as president and chief executive officer of the group, which came following a statement indicating that Robin Webster had taken a leave of absence to care for a family member.

Exactly what the group will say publicly on the matter remains in doubt, however. An IAB statement announcing the agreement with Gator also specified that neither party would discuss the relationship until both were good and ready.

But the group must still justify its decision to its members, several of which have said they once saw action against Gator.com as a way to stem the tide of a host of similar plays, like eZula and Spedia.

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