Advances in technology and the growing penetration of broadband are helping to increase the use of rich media by marketers, even as the online advertising industry struggles to define standards for the maturing medium.
Last month, two competing ad companies introduced new technologies for serving and tracking rich-media ads, while the Interactive Advertising Bureau launched an effort to update its rich-media guidelines.
On July 14, DoubleClick Inc. teamed with Macromedia Inc. to launch DART Motif, a service for creating, trafficking, deploying and reporting on rich-media ads. The service integrates Macromedia Flash MX with DoubleClickâs DART ad management technology.
On the same day, ad technology company Atlas DMT, an operating unit of interactive agency aQuantive Inc., released the Atlas Digital Marketing Suite 4.0, featuring a Brand Exposure Duration (BXD) metric that quantifies the value of online rich media. The BXD metric measures how long users view a rich-media ad across any media buy, which Atlas DMT says will help advertisers gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns and help media buyers plan their buys more efficiently.
The BXD release also measures activity in multiple ad panels, duration of Flash movies played, mouse-over activity and other actions. Its Rich Media Wizard automates the creation, testing and deployment of rich-media ads.
To keep up with technology advances such as these, the Interactive Advertising Bureau last month began the process of updating its rich-media guidelines, which were first released in August 2001. Compliance with the guidelines is voluntary. The standards include definitions, dimensions, file sizes and procedures for creating rich-media ads in banners, skyscrapers, pop-ups and other formats.
Since the 2001 release, the IAB has continued to refine the guidelines for various types of standard ad formats to make online media buying and creation easier.
In April, it released the Universal Ad Package, a set of voluntary guidelines for four online ad formats; compliance with these guidelines is expected to reduce the complexity of creating online ads.
Now, the IAB will seek feedback from online advertisers, agencies and Web publishers on the first phase of its rich-media efforts, which will create specifications for rich-media ads within the four ad units in the Universal Ad Package.
By the end of this month, the IAB hopes to create the final specs for phase one and introduce them to the industry.
The second phase of the rich-media guideline update will include ad formats that reside off the ad page, including floating ads and interstitials.
"Like all standards and guidelines, this requires consensus-building among the buy side and the sell side," said Adam Gelles, director of industry initiatives for the IAB. "The rich-media guidelines are focused on buyers being satisfied with the space."
Most online media buyers and industry experts agree on the need for standards, although they have differing views on the execution of rich-media ads. "Standards are great, but Iâm worried about the amount of hype surrounding rich media and inappropriate usage of rich media," said David Burk, president-CEO of Clear Ink, an interactive agency based in Berkeley, Calif. "My great fear is that creative people working with marketing people are trying to foist television onto the interactive medium.
"When I go to a Web page, I donât want to see a helicopter moving across the screen and making noise," he added.
Burk said an "elegant" rich-media execution includes information that buyers can use to make decisions, without it being a distraction.
Bill McCloskey, CEO of Emerging Interest, a rich-media consulting firm, said consolidation in the rich-media industry reduces the need for standards.
"If you are consolidating rich-media output through a small group of ad servers, that really becomes the standard," said McCloskey, a pioneer in the industry. "The days of many, many rich-media third-party vendors, each with its own code that gets embedded into a file, are coming to an end."