In Q4 of last year the IAB released a complete overhaul of the Standard Unit Portfolio for public comment and the tweaked final specifications are expected soon. Here Marc Rouanet, President, Sublime Skinz, explains the changes and how they’ll benefit both the industry and consumers.
The problem with mega-stars is they can quickly consider themselves above the rules. That’s why the IAB has focused heavily on digital video – the format of the moment – in its new Standard Ad Unit Portfolio — guidelines it claims embody “the next generation of online ads.”
The suggested upgrade isn’t a total surprise. Video may be topping the digital advertising bill, with global ad spend rising by over 40 percent in 2016 and expected to grow by more than 30 percent this year, but it isn’t always a great performer. According to a recent HubSpot study, 50 percent of users dislike pre-roll video ads and almost the same proportion of users (49 percent) deem video ads a general annoyance on mobile. Not quite the feelings advertisers want to inspire or be associated with amid increasing adoption of ad blockers across multiple devices.
It’s clear a change is needed and the IAB’s revamped portfolio might be just the ticket, but what exactly will it mean for video and the industry — and will it be a positive shift?
The two-minute overview:
In a nutshell, the new portfolio is a trimmed down, updated version of the old digital advertising repertoire containing only user-friendly formats that adapt to various screens.
Previously there were 33 different ad formats. Now there are only 12, all of which incorporate aspect ratio files sizes — they will be HMTL5-based and suitable for any device — and must comply with the IAB’s L.E.A.N principles. To recap, L.E.A.N stands for light file size, encrypted, ad choices-enabled, and non-invasive, and comes with a specific list of regulations, available here.
What does it mean for video?
The key flaw of the video experience at present is that it’s not constructed to meet the needs of today’s cross-device audience.
Many consumers, for instance, watch video on mobile; video already accounts for half of mobile traffic and this figure is due to reach 75 percent by 2020. Yet existing video ads require a large file download size, typically about 1.0MB or above, which can have a significant impact on website load times, as well as draining mobile data plans and battery life — a problem cited by 36 percent of ad block users as their reason for deploying the software.
What’s more, if outstream video ads are not carefully designed to work with content and minimise disruption — for example, using tools such as parallax scrolling to place ads behind content when users are engaging with it, or using formats that wrap around the web content — they can have a negative impact on the user experience.
So, by introducing a new, improved and clarified portfolio, the IAB aims to address these issues and ensure the video advertising experience is a positive one on every screen. For a better understanding of how it plans to achieve this, let’s explore the highlights:
1. No more video surprises:
To stop unnecessary data consumption, ad expansion will only be permitted to take place once users clearly initiate interaction, with an action such as a click or a swipe. Auto-play video will also be prohibited unless users have a Wi-Fi connection, ads are served muted, and have visible pause buttons. There are no pop-ups in the new guidelines.
2. Better use of creative:
Advertisers will be encouraged to deploy rich media or interactive features that enhance the user experience — a move that will vastly improve video ad creativity. But, if they contain large assets that require extra loading power they also need to be user initiated.
3. Animation must be manageable:
Advertisers will still be able to use animated video files to enrich ads, as long as they meet certain specifications. In brief: files should be within download limits, they must not exceed 15 seconds, they can be host-initiated (played without use interaction), and they need to be relevant to the message — bright colours and flashy images don’t count.
4. No more forced countdowns:
Videos with a forced countdown before users can dismiss or skip ads will be banned. End of story. And advertisers will also need to give users a choice by including ‘close’ controls from the start.
5. Emerging formats get rules too:
The guidelines feature additional regulations for innovative new formats that are destined to play a part in the future of online video, such as virtual and augmented reality, and vertical video. Key rules include a cap on file size limits and the need to ensure ads are clearly defined as separate from surrounding content so that users aren’t confused.
Although at first glance they may seem restrictive, there is a consistent theme throughout the suggested standards that makes them a positive step forward for video advertising: a strong emphasis on meeting user needs. Every adjustment is intended to bring video in line with user expectations — reducing data excessive consumption, eradicating intrusive ads, and boosting rich media elements. All recommendations that will ensure ads are less interruptive and more engaging. So, as a proposal committed to creating a better experience, there’s no question this is a change the industry needs if it wants to abate ad blocking.
Yet two elements are still missing. To fully realise the potential of video ads, ad length must be addressed. No matter how mobile-friendly and adaptive formats are, users don’t want two minutes of ads within content that lasts five minutes. Furthermore, the industry also needs to take a more thorough approach to measuring video ad performance — at present success is gauged using completion rates, yet this provides a limited understanding of effectiveness. To truly understand audience engagement, the industry must look beyond completion to include other key metrics, such as awareness, user engagement, memorisation, and viewability.
This means that sooner or later we are likely to see another suggested portfolio with a couple of vital additions: ads must be served in proportion to their content and measured on more than just their power to keep audiences watching.