For Brand Ads Online, Bigger Is Better

OPA Members Push Units That Can't Be Sold by Networks

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NEW YORK ( -- Web publishers such as, and think they know what will attract more brand advertising online.

GI Joe pushdown ad

Paramount Pictures used a version of the pushdown ad format for its 'GI Joe' marketing campaign on

Hint: Try ads that look more like the ones Apple has been running on the front page of and than, well, those belly-fat, IQ and credit-score ads the networks are spraying everywhere.

Members of the Online Publishers Association have decided that bigger is better in their quest for brand-advertising dollars, and 26 members of the group are adopting a new set of three interactive ad units to get agency minds on better creative and off low-CPM ad networks.

The publishers, including Martha Stewart Living, Conde Nast Digital, Discovery and CBS Interactive, have agreed to only direct-sell the new units, and not sell them through ad networks. The new ads will run alone on the page, giving advertisers exclusivity that publishers hope they'll pay a premium for.

"We are giving the agency community a lot more real estate on our pages," said Martin Nisenholtz, senior VP-digital operations at The New York Times. "Design clutter has affected the web, particularly in the advertising space, and it needs to be cleaned up."

Branded campaigns vs. typical banner ads
The move by these publishers is meant to address the increasingly bifurcated world of web publishing. On the one hand, there are the custom branded campaigns sold directly, which garner high ad rates as measured by the cost to reach a thousand viewers. On the other are typical banner ads sold by ad networks for pennies on the dollar.

The new units are designed to move more money to the high end and give advertisers a format that scales across many publishers, in hopes of drumming up higher-end branded campaigns that can run on pages other than only the publishers' home pages

The publishers hope to present a branded alternative to the standard banner ads, which helped the online ad industry get off the ground but also have been commoditized by ad networks and are blamed for stifling creativity.

"The ad units have remained the same, but the web has moved on in its capabilities," said Atmosphere BBDO CEO Andreas Combueche. "Will it solve all the issues? No. But it's a step in the right direction."

Three ad formats
With standards in place, agencies will be able to create units compatible with all participating OPA sites. OPA President Pam Horan said publishers that have signed on have agreed to adopt at least one of the three formats by July 1. So far, publishers involved represent an unduplicated reach of 108 million visitors, according to Nielsen Online.

The three formats were derived from units some publishers had already been using but that hadn't been standardized across multiple sites. They include a tall, wide vertical unit called a "fixed panel," an oversize box with page-turn and video capability called an "XXL box," and a "pushdown" ad that expands from a thin strip to take over the top third of a page.

Paramount Pictures used a version of the pushdown for its "GI Joe" marketing campaign on

Members of the OPA hope it works: Online display advertising is looking at a flat year in 2009, growing slightly to $8.27 billion from $8.1 billion in 2008, according to Citibank internet analyst Mark Mahaney.

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