IAB aim is to lower interactive ad hurdles

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Six weeks ago, the Internet Advertising Bureau hired me as its first CEO. Was I insane to leave the Association of National Advertisers for an ad medium that some people say doesn't work? The Internet is a medium that consumers spend more time with than either newspapers or magazines and is the only medium where consumers are one click from a purchase. It has all the capabilities of direct mail at a fraction of the cost, and reaches the most educated and affluent Americans where they live and work. Excited by the industry's extraordinary promise, I agreed to join the IAB to help resolve the obstacles and move the entire medium forward.

The task at hand is equal to the formation of the newspaper, magazine, radio or TV ad industries. Standard practices in other media did not happen overnight. Nielsen didn't have an automated meter to track TV viewership until the 1970s, 40 years after the inception of the TV commercial. The Internet faces a number of challenges that must be addressed to attain a rightful place in the media mix of a strategic advertising campaign. Universal standards of measurement must be established, but first we have to resolve why there are discrepancies. The IAB has enlisted PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a massive audit to determine the source of the inconsistencies so we can work to establish accurate and meaningful measurement.


We also must resolve how to make planning, buying and selling interactive media simpler. The IAB is working with agencies to finalize voluntary guidelines for terms and conditions for insertion orders. We must make it easier for agencies to do reach and frequency analyses for media plans, which include interactive media, and get included in agencies' standard billing process.

A challenge on my "to do" list is to quash the proliferation of bad information batted back and forth about the industry. Contrary to Randall Rothenberg's assertion in Advertising Age ("Famed disasters: Hindenburg, Chicago Fire and banner ads," Viewpoint, AA, March 5), the IAB does not track click-through rates: They are not a relevant measure for all online advertising. Click-through rates only serve as a viable metric for ads whose objectives are to 1) send traffic to another site or 2) initiate a direct-response tactic. Moreover, click-through rates vary wildly based on placement and creative content. Every time I hear an average click-through rate figure it makes me cringe and want to ask the full story.

Given the center stage we've occupied these past weeks, we must continuously address banner-ad guidelines and work closely with agencies and publishers to achieve effective units that take full advantage of the medium. Advertisers conveyed ad formats lacked impact (ANA's "Web Site Management and Interactive Advertising Trends"). Advertisers also indicated they didn't want to waste money on resizing creative executions. Consumers ([research company] Ipsos-ASI) indicated larger, more interactive ads were more effective. Armed with this information, we worked with many members of the IAB to define the best formats that we'll review every six months. Nothing in regard to ad formats is set in stone.

We've been applauded and criticized. Some people feel establishing guidelines for online ads is akin to putting an artistic chokehold on the industry. I suppose they choke creativity on the Internet the same way the Standard Advertising Unit constricts print and the 30-second spot limits TV. On the contrary, these new guidelines were designed to foster experimentation. Without standards, chaos would rule. According to a survey conducted by the IAB in association with the American Association of Advertising Agencies, advertising industry decision-makers are fully supportive of the new voluntary guidelines. An almost unanimous majority of those surveyed (93%) said the new units are more effective than previous guidelines.

The creative potential of an interactive unit is not achieved through its size, but through original, groundbreaking interactive ad campaigns. The challenge now is for agencies to put their top talent to work on interactive advertising, not just TV advertising.


The Internet represents 11% of all media consumption-a statistic that is only going to increase. It's downright silly to say the Internet doesn't work as an ad medium. Granted, the "anything works" outlook is over, but we're still on course to establish the Internet as a viable, essential advertising vehicle. If you care about this medium, join the problem solvers-participate in an IAB committee or contribute case studies of effective campaigns.

I firmly believe interactive advertising will be the second largest medium; bigger than cable, magazines, newspapers, radio and outdoor. As marketers seek to target their most valuable customers and engage them in relevant communication that is easy and convenient to access, they will have no alternative but to turn to interactive media.

Before joining New York-based IAB in January, Ms. Webster had been chief content officer, eMar-ketWorld, and exec VP, Associ-ation of National Advertisers.

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