Last Thursday (October 15) we heard news of a new initiative from the Interactive Advertising Bureau which would provide a roadmap to a better, more user-mindful ad economy.
The launch of LEAN - or light, encrypted, ad-choice supported, non-invasive ads - represented a bold move for the organisation, not least due to the fact that its announcement started with the admission that “We [the online advertising industry] messed up”.
Scott Cunningham, senior VP of technology and ad operations at the Bureau, was speaking frankly in reference to the onset of ad-blocking software and how the current crop of formats along with ‘certain’ approaches to using them have caused more and more users to explore ways of blocking the advertisements that appear on their screens.
IAB reps are branding LEAN as an “alternative set of standards” for advertisers to follow; a product of the organisation which releases ‘guidelines’ as opposed to rules and regulations for the industry it serves. However, Cunningham’s admission of the mistakes show just how much needs to change, and how soon change needs to come.
An action too late?
Upon its release, members of the ad industry took to Twitter to showcase their feelings towards the IAB’s new program - a firm advocate of better experiences for users. It has to be said that not all the feedback was positive.
The IAB's proposal for better ad formats, a minimum of 3 years too late > Getting LEAN with Digital Ad UX http://t.co/4Qy3CRWyGt— Jonathan Beeston (@beeston) October 19, 2015
Internet Advertising Bureau says it regrets industry's ravenous, dishonest behavior. Believe it when things change. http://t.co/NcyN2XrF1W— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) October 16, 2015
Many other social commentators welcomed the Bureau’s guidelines while also expressing doubt over whether they could be delivered and would be adopted by advertisers.
Within LEAN, though, there are plenty of things that advertisers are committing to already, even if there are clearly some sticking points. Here is where things stand:
Ad-blocking software providers have used a promise of a faster browsing experience to promote their tools, and Cunningham believes that bandwidth-friendly ads are certainly the way forward.
“The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public internet and drained more than a few batteries.
“We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves. This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience”.
Lighter advertisements mean faster load times. Fortunately lots of advertisers have turned to powering their inventory with HTML5 - a faster and safer alternative to Adobe Flash.
A huge moment in the pivot from HTML to Flash came after Google announced that it would be cutting vital support for Adobe’s outdated plug-in. Moves from companies with similar stature to Google always help in this scenario, but easy-to-load ads delivered in uncluttered environments should be a priority for advertisers with or without LEAN.
Earlier in 2015 the IAB said the industry must catch up and adopt HTTPS - a method of encrypting web traffic to ensure the privacy of information passed between users and websites. It’s therefore of little surprise to see encryption make its way into the code.
The Bureau stated that while 80% of ad-delivery systems support HTTPS, “interconnectedness” is key, and so too is adoption of the protocol from brand safety tools, agency ad servers and other groups. Still, from an awareness perspective, companies will take a great deal out of Google (again) having the “vast majority” of its Display Network, AdMob and DoubleClick inventory pass through encryption.
Going forward, more of the same from some of the giants in advertising will always help things along.
In this sense, the Bureau is urging adoption of tools similar to those offered by the Digital Advertising Alliance’s consumer privacy programs, where users can opt-out of having their data shared for use with interest-based advertising.
These urge the user to “exercise choice” with participating companies, who also submit information on what data they collect and how they go about collecting it. Retargeting ploughs millions of dollars into the ad industry every year, but the IAB is clearly looking to produce a culture where user choice is paramount.
Invasive ads are a big problem for the user and ad-blocking tools virtually market themselves on this point alone. Thus, the IAB is looking to stamp out the main offenders before things get worse for publishers and their revenue lost to ads that get blocked.
Among the examples cited by IAB UK in its publicity for the move were “covering content”, or ads taking up an entire page, and inventory that causes sound to play by default.
It’s every advertiser’s intention to provide inventory that adds value to the user, and in growth for budgets assigned to content marketing, where there is an element of service involved, and ads that play outside of the content stream, perhaps hope is on the horizon.
But where all of the points above are concerned, the initial progress will have to be followed up with several big strides if ad blockers really are to be stopped.
Are the IAB’s new guidelines really too late for advertisers to respond? Have your say below.