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The Atlantic Goes Big on Takeover Ads as Other Publishers Push Back

By Published on .

The Atlantic's new redesign came with a welcome-page takeover from Sony.
The Atlantic's new redesign came with a welcome-page takeover from Sony. Credit: The Atlantic
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When The Atlantic revealed its new website design last week, it did so with a big takeover ad from Sony.

It's a classic interstitial, or pre-stitial, ad that takes up the screen before a reader can get to the rest of the page. The Atlantic redesigned the site to capitalize on a surge in traffic, thanks to its hard-news edge and a captivating political climate.

The site is faster and stuffs more headlines at the top of the page. It has a widescreen video ad that enters into view as people scroll down screen. The welcome page pop-up ad is "visually arresting," said Hayley Romer, The Atlantic's publisher.

The format is called a "high-impact plus HD" format, which was built to ensure brands reach their viewability goals, but it also loads quickly.

"We do not offer it to everybody," Hayley said. "We're very particular about the creative that will run in that spot."

The speed is key to capturing views and keeping users from bouncing.

The new ad format is another sign that publishers today are caught in an ad trap: In-your-face ads are coveted by advertisers that demand viewability. The problem, however, is that viewers are quick to click away from a site that loads slowly, jammed with ads, or they just turn on dreaded ad blockers.

Readers are coming from Facebook posts and Google searches, which take into account the ad experiences and load times when ranking websites. The referral sites have a lot of power to guide what ad formats are adopted, because Google hurts publishers with certain interstitials and ads that stuff up the page.

Still, the brands are the biggest factor shaping ad experiences. Influential agencies like Group M have issued edicts that they will only pay for ads that are 100% viewable.

To be considered viewable, ads typically have to be seen for one to two seconds with at least half the pixels in view, depending on the format. GroupM has even stricter standards on video.

"Publishers that give us the most visible inventory are rewarded," said John Montgomery, evp of brand safety at GroupM. "But there may be a temptation to stuff as many ads into the viewable frame as possible."

In a survey in March, the Coalition for Better Ads found that -- surprise, surprise -- consumers hate interstitials, or "prestitials" as they were called in the report, the most of all ad formats. They also have unfavorable views of autoplay video with sound, an increasingly prevalent format.

For its part Hearst -- publisher of sites like Cosmopolitan.com and Elle.com -- is "significantly cutting back" on takeover ads and so-called interstitials, said Todd Haskell, chief revenue officer at Hearst Magazines Digital Media.

"Interstitials have a high level of viewability," he conceded. "But you have to be very careful creating an interruptive advertising experience."

He admitted Hearst still delivers those types of ads at times on mobile devices. "On desktop we effectively walked away," Haskell said.

Some in the industry say that this emphasis on viewability--and now audibility--encourages publishers to push the boundaries of what's an appropriate ad experience.

"You know what the consequence of viewability is," said Harry Kargman, CEO of Kargo, which develops ad technology for top publishers. "You know the ads that remain in view the longest, guaranteed, are unskippable 30-second pre-roll and pop-up interstitials. The worst ad experience you can actually deliver."

The cure is changing how ad buyers think about viewability, Kargman said, not as the end-all goal of an ad campaign.

"It's supposed to be a baseline determinant of whatever format you choose. Making sure the ad is in view," Kargman said. "But it's not a metric to determine efficacy."