Making the most of the New IAB Creative Formats

By Eric Picard (First published May 21st, 2012 on

The IAB has finally released new creative standards for the first time in a decade. The new rich media branding units (formerly called “rising stars”) are now officially the newest standards out there and should drive a new revolution in advertising online. Creative formats are the No. 1 reason that major brands have not adopted online advertising to the extent that spend matches hours spent. (There are several other major issues, but this one is the biggest.)

So where do these new rising stars fit in the overall continuum of online display advertising? And how fast can we expect them to be adopted? Let’s review.

There are two types of advertising experiences that are created on major publisher sites today.

One is an extremely brand-centric page-takeover type experience that is very custom and fundamentally overtakes the user experience on the homepage (or section front) of a major publisher to give a quality brand significant creative license. This is great for everyone, including the audience visiting the site. The experience is custom, crafted, and well considered. But this doesn’t scale as a business model, and many publishers don’t yield much profit from these implementations. They’re essentially loss leaders that bring in more spend on scalable inventory.

So what is “scalable inventory?” Well, judging from the 20 or so major publisher sites I just visited, it looks like that has consolidated around a combination of two standard IAB formats — the leaderboard (728×90) and the medium rectangle (300×250). There are, of course, a few other formats that are used at some degree of scale, particularly various formats of the skyscraper ads out there. But I’ve been seeing fewer of these on major publications, which seem to be consolidating on the 728×90 and 300×250 combination.

On one level, this makes me very happy — because I made very strong recommendations to adopt these two formats as the industry standard when they were released. In 2002. Yes, the UAP format standards were released to the industry way back in 2002. (Yes, that’s a decade ago.)

The problem with this lag is that while screen resolutions have radically increased in this timeframe, the formerly “large” 300×250 standard ad unit is now a postage-stamp sized unit.

The graphic above is one I created in 2009 to make the point that creative formats were too small. The problem has gotten worse with wide-screen monitors becoming the new standard.

Now that we have the first new formats available in a decade, it’s on the shoulders of media buyers and publishers to force this issue. First, media buyers must demand this inventory from publishers at scale. They should be pushing to get these units on every page of every publisher they buy from. These shouldn’t be a more-scaled version of the page takeover; they shouldn’t be special media buys that are a fixed percentage of a buy. They should be the bulk of every buy.

As for publishers, they need to enable (and quickly) every page on their sites to immediately adopt these units as their standard unit. The UAP is a decade old, far too small, and very prone to banner blindness by users. These new ad formats are well-thought-through and do a great job of catching user attention.

Publishers also need to make sure that these new units are not held aside as special options and used like rich media has been used for more than a decade now — as the way to preserve floor price. Yes, that’s a good thing for us to do; publishers should be preserving floor price wherever they can. But if we don’t aggressively move off of the long-in-the-tooth formats from 2002, we’re going to continue to see overall CPM erode.

Publishers must also make sure that these new units are made available for programmatic buying and selling. If we move to a world where hand-sold inventory is the rising star units, and all page views serviced by ad exchanges are UAP ads, publishers are going to cause a huge economic problem for themselves. I can imagine the argument being made that this helps with channel conflict resolution — but it won’t. It will create a new class of ridiculously cheap inventory that will further erode overall CPMs.

If media buyers demand that all their buys fit these new formats, and if publishers ensure that there is no friction in acquiring ads in these formats at scale, the whole industry will significantly benefit.


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