Sizes, Sizes Everywhere, but Can Someone Help Me Think?

As many of you have undoubtedly heard by now, the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has issued new standards for ad-unit sizes that can be deployed on sites across the Web.

These standards are really just voluntary guidelines sites may follow when considering alternatives to the already existing CASIE standards, established by CASIE (Coalition for Advertising Supported Information and Entertainment) and the IAB in late 1996. The guidelines address seven new ad units — two vertical and five large rectangular — being introduced as acceptable standardized assets for online advertising.

The IAB’s Ad Unit Task Force introduced the guidelines and has promised to meet on a semiannual basis to examine the effectiveness of existing ad units, review proposed new ad units, and issue updated voluntary guidelines as appropriate. The seven new units, currently being introduced by some Web publishers, are designed to enable marketers to utilize greater interactivity and “stretch the canvas,” so to speak, allowing advertisers’ online messaging to have greater impact.

In general, I believe this latest development is a positive one. Something like this has been a long time coming. And the IAB, if it is to maintain its position as a preeminent representative of the online/interactive marketing industry, had to be the one to do it.

The medium has needed more interesting placements, and not just for boosting response rates, to which these latest guidelines are certainly an answer. New, more interesting creative units are necessary if for no other purpose than to make online advertising more like, well, advertising.

The online medium is unlike any other, and yet it shares similarities with several. Currently the Web most closely resembles print. Publishers produce content for site visitors to engage. Individuals primarily go to a site for news and information, maybe a few services, and certainly some shopping. Advertising is placed in these editorial environments. Larger units allow for ad placement that traditional advertisers can understand; their interactivity makes them interesting, actively communicative, and, ultimately, trackable.

But is this really enough?

Tom Hespos points out in his March 1 article that there is so much more the IAB could have and should have done. How about some true guidance on what goes in the space? What about the technology that is to govern the space?

And what about other, larger problems that are plaguing the industry? What is really keeping traditional advertisers away? How do we refocus the industry on something other than click-through rates?

Here, then, is my list of issues the IAB should address to fix the hole in the dike rather than just putting a finger in it:

  • Third-party ad serving and proof of performance. We must have a position on this if we are ever to start instituting standardized best business practices.

  • Counting methodology. Waiting for the IAB to create a counting methodology has been like watching a snail and a slug waltz in molasses (yes, I have used this simile before). The 302 redirect has been floating out there as a de facto means by which existing media currency is tabulated, that is, the impression. If consensus can be rallied around this, let’s issue it as a standard, and get on with it already.
  • Development of media currency beyond just clicks and impressions. I’ve been harping on this for months and will continue to every chance I get, but the online advertising industry needs to find a way to sell “audience,” not impressions.
  • Media-sponsored research that demonstrates the power of the medium. Big media companies have spent millions developing properties and staffs but nothing on research that proves to traditional advertisers that the Internet is a viable ad medium. Let’s face it, the 1997 IAB/Millward Brown study isn’t enough.

If the IAB can take on some of these issues, maybe it will be a true industry organization and stand for something more than just “I Ain’t Busy.”

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