The CMO’s guide to the new IAB Standard Ad Unit Portfolio

Last September, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released a draft of an IAB Standard Ad Unit Portfolio developed by the IAB Technology Laboratory based on feedback from surveys, research and testing.

The goal: to provide publishers and advertisers with a set of standard specifications and guidelines for advertising experiences. On July 20, the IAB released a final version of the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio.

Here’s what senior marketers and advertisers need to know about it.

What exactly is the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio?

According to the IAB, the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio “is comprised of display ads, native ads, and new content experiences like emoji ads, 360-degree image and video ads, virtual reality ads, and augmented reality ads.”

It further explained that the guidelines contained in the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio “are comprehensive recommendations of advertising experiences across diverse digital landscape including websites, mobile apps, social media, communication, and messaging experiences as well as new digital experiences like virtual reality and augmented reality.”

All guidance is based on HTML5 technology

After years of talk about the impending death of Adobe Flash, Adobe just announced the date of Adobe’s end of life: December 30, 2020. With Flash set to be be officially killed off in a little over three years, it’s important to note that all of the guidelines in the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio are based on HTML5 technology.

In other words, all of the ad units and experiences the IAB is recommending can and should be implemented with HTML5.

Every ad in the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio is LEAN

In 2015, in response to the growing threat of ad blockers, the IAB announced the LEAN program. LEAN stands for Light, Encrypted, AdChoice supported, and Non-invasive ads and according to the IAB, “these are the principles that will help guide the next phases of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain.”

Ultimately, LEAN is intended to ensure that ads impact page load performance as little as possible and are non-disruptive. To that end, all ad experiences described in the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio have been designed to adhere to the LEAN principles.

For example, under LEAN, popups, ads that auto-expand without user initiation, and pages that have ads covering more than 30% of pixels are not permitted.

The Standard Ad Unit Portfolio introduces flexible ad sizing for display ads

With the seemingly countless and ever-growing number of mobile devices and screen resolutions, creating standard ad sizes has become more difficult. The Standard Ad Unit Portfolio addresses this by introducing flexible size ads.

Flexible size ads are based on aspect ratios, not fixed dimensions. There are six categories of ad types, including horizontal, vertical, tiles and full page landscape.

Ad units have names like 4×1, which, as the name suggests, has an aspect ratio of 4:1. The Standard Ad Unit Portfolio guidelines specify that this ad unit have a minimum size of 900 pixels wide by 225 pixels tall and a maximum size of 1800 pixels wide by 450 pixels tall.

For transition purposes, the new 4×1 ad unit corresponds to the common billboard fixed ad unit, which is 970 pixels wide by 250 pixels tall.

The IAB is weighing in on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) ads

While most marketers are not investing heavily in technologies like VR, the IAB wants to get ahead of the curve and offers guidelines for VR and AR ads in the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio.

For image-based VR ads, for instance, it advises that ads “MUST be part of the experience, e.g. a billboard in the scene with ad banner or a picture or wall hanging in a scene that is filled in with a banner ad of the right aspect ratio and size.” For video-based VR ads, overlays and popups are not permitted and the ads “should not break immersion in the VR.”

The IAB’s discussion of AR covers the components of AR ads, including triggers such as markers or AI-driven image recognition, ad displays that are either tracked or not tracked to an object, and static, dynamic and immersive content that is displayed.Advertisers should familiarize themselves with the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio for a number of reasons

Why the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio is important

The Standard Ad Unit Portfolio is important for numerous reasons. First, many of the specifications in the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio will have a direct impact on ads they buy. For example, flexible size ads will supplant the fixed width and height ad units that advertisers have been buying for years.

But that’s not all. Some of the guidance incorporated in the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio, namely the IAB’s LEAN principles, could have a significant impact on advertisers thanks to the Coalition for Better Ads, a group formed by the IAB and others to “to improve consumers’ experience with online advertising.”

In June, Google announced that it plans to build ad blocking into a future version of Chrome and it will use the Coalition for Better Ads’ Better Ads Standards to determine which ads are blocked.

Since there’s overlap between the Better Ads Standards and the guidance in the Standard Ad Unit Portfolio, senior marketers and advertisers are wise to familiarize themselves with the new portfolio.

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