Lack of Standards Holds Back New Ad Units: IAB

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NEW YORK - It's been a year since the seven new ad units approved by the Interactive Advertising Bureau have been in use, and surprisingly, they have not hastened the death of the beleaguered banner ad.


While the larger units are turning out to be an effective branding vehicle, their flexibility in design and variety are slowing their acceptance by the Web surfing public, according to a panel assembled at the Fifth Annual @d:Tech New York conference that began here yesterday.


"The challenge with these new ad units is that they are so varied, that the user doesn't know how to interact with them," said Cheryl Brink, vice president of research for CNET Networks, which operates technology and news portals such as News.com and CNET. "We think they would be much more effective if they were standardized."


Also, Nick Nyhan, president of Dynamic Logic, a firm that conducts online research, said banner ads are still an effective vehicle for advertising on the Web.


In a recent study conducted by Dynamic Logic, 53 percent of respondents had a "positive attitude" about banner ads. The findings indicated that consumers have grown accustomed to the standard banner because they are relatively small and unobtrusive.


"Everyone has said the banner is dead," Nyhan said. "But clearly that's not the case."


However, Nyhan said, the same study also found that as a branding medium, the new ad units -- particularly the large rectangle and skyscraper units -- are between 3 times and 6 times more effective than other methods for branding online. But the king of online branding remains the interstitial, he said.


"Advertisers are looking to the Internet to deliver their message, not as a direct response medium," he said.


Susan Russo, vice president of product development for Diameter, DoubleClick Inc.'s online research subsidiary, said one of the reasons the new ad units have not taken over as many have expected they would is because there is little standardization in their use across Web sites. Their flexibility, she noted, is in some ways a detriment to their acceptance -- particularly by agencies that are responsible for the creative aspects of the ads.


"One of the big challenges we have is to standardize sizes because it's easier for the agency," Russo said. "They are so hard to buy, plan and create that it's held us back."


She also pointed out that if the industry decides on standards too quickly, that too could backfire.


"If we decide on a few standards too quickly, you limit your potential," Russo said.


According to CNET's Brink, some of the company's sites had to be redesigned to accommodate the large rectangle units. CNET was one of the first outlets to use the new units last year.


"There aren't many pages that can accommodate those units," Brink said. "But the beauty of the ad is that it gives you more room to be more effective. The smart publishers and advertisers will think about the environment in which the ad will run."


Brink also decried the lack of standardization among the new ad units, noting that the sheer variety has held back their acceptance.


If nothing else, the new ad units have better awareness than many other types of ads because of their larger size, Dynamic Logic's Nyhan pointed out.


"It isn't rocket science to think that a bigger ad unit works better," he said. "But a bad ad is still a bad ad. No matter how big a bad ad is, it's still a bad ad. The smaller ads still work."


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