In an announcement today, the IAB unveiled what it is calling the "Universal Ad Package" for online advertising. The package does not include the 468 x 60 pixel banner that has been the icon of World Wide Web page advertising since that business emerged in the mid-1990s.
"Although research has proven the banner works, we are tired of it being referred to as the 'much-maligned' banner," said Greg Stuart, executive director of the IAB. "We are effectively de-emphasizing the banner."
The four ad sizes that the IAB will recommend for Web site use are a 728 x 90 pixel "leader board," which runs across the top of a page like a giant banner; the 160 x 600 pixel skyscraper that runs vertically on the side of a page; and the 300 x 250 pixel and 180 x 150 pixel rectangular formats.
Web site overhauls
The IAB acknowledges that some Web
"You're changing formats on the pages to accomodate these new ad sizes," he said. "It's part of the reason that we want to do it over a long period of time, because most sites have at least an annual release cycle. We didn't want any sites to have to go and crack code and change their sites to accomodate these. We wanted these as their next version release. We're looking at a six to 12 month cycle, depending on the site and depending on whether they have accomodated these sizes already."
Founded in 1996, the IAB issued the first set of standardized online ad size guidelines in 1997 and has continued to refine them ever since. Its Web site, at www.iab.net, currently details the 14 online ad formats it generally recommends as industry standards. The four sizes in the newly recommended Universal Ad Package are a subset of that longer list. Only one of these sizes -- 728 x 90 pixel -- is new. The other three were previously added to the IAB's ad size guidelines in Febuary 2001.
Ad agencies have long complained that the proliferation of so many sizes forces them to have reformat ads multiple times to meet the various specifications of Web publishers -- a time-consuming process that increases their costs.
"Banners were created somewhat arbitrarily as a quick way to fit an advertiser's message on a page," said Nick Nyhan, CEO of Dynamic Logic. "The format grew as the medium grew. Today, we know more about how effective different online ad formats can be."
Mr. Nyhan also said banners remain effective for flagging sponsorships of Web pages or linking a brand to a specific message.
Many believe that the larger, more intrusive ad formats are more effective for reaching online consumers.
Larger ads work better
"We know that larger ad sizes work better," said Mr. Stuart. "Instead of having to produce for 15 or 20 different sites that all have different requirements, if agencies produce in these four [sizes], they're pretty much guaranteed to reach everyone."
The IAB effort is supported by publishers including AOL Time Warner's America Online, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, Yahoo!, CNET Networks, Univision Online and Washington Post Co.'s Washingtonpost/Newsweek Interactive, all of which have agreed to offer the four large ad sizes. It is also supported by the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
"The real goal [of the recommendations] is to help the ad agencies out," Mr. Bernstein said. "It's something that MSN heard a lot, so did Yahoo!, so did AOL. ... Agencies were really frustrated with having to build all different types of ad sizes for different sites." Mr. Bernstein said the effort targets agency creatives and media buyers and planners.
Opportunity to comment
IAB members will have an opportunity to comment on the recommendations before they are officially adopted. The ad sizes will also receive names -- another effort at standardization. After a two-month feedback process, the IAB will tackle standards for rich-media usage within the four ad sizes as well as off-page advertising such as page-takeovers.
"This doesn't preclude us from doing things in other sizes and customizing, but it gives us some common language," Mr. Bernstein said.
"Publishers recognize that creativity is not limited by the size of the unit but that without standards, it's difficult to be able to do anything across many different properties and to make the interactive medium relatively easy to invest in," said Tim McHale, CEO of Underscore Marketing.
Christopher Schroeder, CEO and publisher of Washingtonpost.com, told AdAge.com that his site already offers three of the four ad units.
"Larger ad units are far more alluring and impactful," Mr. Schroeder said. "Now that we offer skyscapers, big boxes and leaderboards, there is no question that the banner is less relevant. The leaderboard, for instance, occupies basically the same position on our pages as a banner, but is more than twice the size."
He believes the standards will go a long way in selling the medium and make the planning and buying process more efficient for agencies.