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November 03 2016

IAB: Flexible Ad Formats for All Screens

Why should you read this article?

Because you need to know what the new IAB standards for digital ad formats are.
Maya Lawrence

This article was written by Ingrid Schutzmann. It was originally published in internetworld.de in German on October 11, 2016.

The US IAB has updated the standards for digital ad formats. Flexible ad formats will be used instead of fixed pixel sizes. Formats considered intrusive will be discarded.

The US IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) Technology Laboratory has revised its standards for digital ad formats. Ad format sizes will be flexible instead of fixed pixel sizes and the standards will be based on the ad’s aspect ratio (1:1, 1:2, 4:1,10:1, etc.). For instance, the current specification of 300×50 pixels becomes 6:1.

The ad keeps this size ratio, regardless of the screen on which it is displayed. Today’s campaigns are delivered on many different screen sizes, so with the IAB’s new approach, digital ads can adapt to screen size following the principles of responsive design. The specifications are based on HTML5 and apply to standard display ads, mobile, video and native ad formats.

Reaction to ad blocking

A second novelty is the IAB’s initiative for a better ad experience – the “LEAN” principles. LEAN stands for “lightweight“ (limited file size), “encrypted” (ads are HTTPS/SSL compliant), “ad choice supported“ (ads support opt out from targeting) and “non-invasive“ (non-disruptive).

“The flexible ad units will enable the ad to adapt to various sizes without losing the original message,” says Randall Rothenberg, the IAB’s president and CEO. He is convinced that the integration of the LEAN principles into the standard ad portfolio will also dramatically improve user experience on websites financed by advertising.

On the website www.iab.com/newadportfolio, the link “View Examples of Do’s and Don’ts” provides some examples to illustrate which ad formats will be part of the standard and which formats will be removed. For instance, ads with countdowns on tablets covering the actual content will be removed. Expandable ads which expand to a fixed size upon click will be removed as well. Interstitial ads on smartphones are ok, but pop up ads are not.

The US IAB’s LEAN principles are a reaction to the spread of ad blockers. “LEAN’s main purpose is to reject disruptive ad formats, such as auto-expand or the autoplay of videos,” says Lasse Nordsiek, Head of sales and business development for the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) at Smart AdServer. The ad serving vendor was one of the US IAB partners who has already tested the ad formats. Publishers who have tested the formats include AOL, About.com, BBC, Lemonde.fr and Bloomberg Media. Technical service providers such as Flashtalking, Improve Digital or Sizmek have tested the flexible ads as well.

The US IAB has published a document (“Transition Guidance”), which will support the industry in its transition to the new ad portfolio. Companies can comment on the innovations until November 28, 2016. After this period, the IAB will publish the final version of the new ad units. They are scheduled to be launched in the US at the beginning of 2017.

When asked by Internet World about the timeline and type of adoption for the German digital advertising market, the Online-Vermarkterkreis (the unit representing publishers within Germany’s IAB equivalent Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft) did not issue a statement. Since digital ads are booked and delivered internationally, German publishers, ad networks, and agencies will certainly deal with the new IAB ad portfolio.

Interview with Lasse Nordsiek of Smart AdServer

Smart AdServer is one of the IAB’s partners who has tested the flexible ad formats. Lasse Nordsiek, Country Manager DACH at Smart AdServer, explains that the industry body’s main intention is to create a standard which simplifies cross-device ad delivery.

What goals does the IAB pursue with the new portfolio for standard formats?
Lasse Nordsiek: Basically, creatives designed by agencies and creative technology vendors will follow the responsive design principles. So, the absolute pixel size stops being the defining characteristic of the placement or ad slot, since the creative is delivered as a flexible unit adapted to the individual screen. This makes the ratio of width and height a more precise way to define the ad slot (for instance, 300×50 becomes 6:1). It is mainly about simplifying processes and defining standards and limitations for today’s formats. For instance, the IAB’s initiative rejects certain formats and features, such as pop-ups, floating ads or auto- expand features. Agencies and advertisers will benefit since they can design and use their creatives autonomously using the individual ratio and the IAB’s listed formats.

The IAB emphasizes that each specification is based on HTML5. Why is this important?
Lasse Nordsiek: HTML5 adds flexibility. Ad slots can be filled in a “responsive” way across all screens and devices (desktop, smartphone and tablet) with centralized administration.

When this new portfolio becomes the standard, how will the delivery process change?
Lasse Nordsiek: From a publisher perspective, ad delivery will not change substantially in terms of technology. Smart AdServer’s top priority as a technology provider is to make sure that the new format specifications work seamlessly with the existing tagging structure. We could successfully demonstrate this in the extensive test scenarios we worked on with the IAB. The new standard will have a greater influence on the way agencies and advertisers buy media. We believe that the new LEAN and Flex Ads standards will improve user acceptance and thus boost the performance of digital ad campaigns.

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