The internet advertising Bureau's decision last week to issue guidelines for new ad units meant something more to many in the industry: a step toward reviving interest in a flagging medium.
The IAB released guidelines on seven new Web advertising units, the group's first major move in that arena since it agreed on standards for banner ads approximately five years ago. Among other moves the organization soon will take is an increase in dues to support its goal of becoming more of a professional service organization-it has been a volunteer organization since it was founded in 1996, just as the Internet advertising industry began to skyrocket.
Already this year, the organization has hired its first CEO, Robin Webster, who has longtime experience with the Association of National Advertisers (AdAge.com, Jan. 30).
According to IAB member and CNET Networks CEO Shelby Bonnie, the IAB has been trying to step up its momentum in recent months, concentrating on an "overall holistic effort" that includes working more intently on rich media implementation, developing supporting research and other initiatives.
MORE UNIFIED FRONT
The new ad guidelines embrace the larger ad units that sites have been rolling out piecemeal for some months, including CNET's super-size ads that launched earlier this year and Walt Disney Internet Group's Big Impression, which the Disney unit unveiled on its sites in September. All told, the new guidelines cover five rectangular units and two vertical units, which also have become popular recently.
Perhaps more importantly, the IAB now will continue to review new ad models every six months. The step reflects the fact that, dissatisfied with online ad models that have been used since the industry's infancy, publishers and advertisers are beginning to work together to create new ad models.
But if online publishers in the past had a tendency to go their own way in trying to attract advertisers, the new guidelines seem to present a more unified front. CNET will be altering its much-publicized jumbo ads to fit the new guidelines.
Both companies had representation on the IAB's Ad Unit Task Force, as did other major online players AOL Time Warner, DoubleClick, Excite@Home, Microsoft Network, New York Times Digital, Phase2Media, Snowball.com, Terra Lycos and Yahoo!.
"This is totally different than 1996," said Richy Glassberg, CEO of Phase2Media and the IAB vice chairman who spearheaded the current initiative. The guidelines issued back then were solely concentrated on the ad banner and focused on streamlining production more than goosing slowing revenue.
Acknowledging Internet advertising's current problems and the pressure from the advertising community to increase the usability of the medium, he said, "This is the market saying that the agencies are clamoring for more room to do interactivity."
Agencies, which are only just growing accustomed to being catered to by online publishers, were generally supportive of the new guidelines. "The larger unit garners better results and better click-throughs," said Susan Shiekofer, New York media director of WPP Group's OgilvyOne.
As the Internet advertising industry goes through its first downturn, however, many hoping for a business rebound may find the IAB's initiatives wanting.
Said iVillage CEO Doug McCormick, who has been outspoken about the need for a strong trade organization, "All the agreed-upon guidelines in the world, though important, aren't as necessary as growing a business."
At least one IAB member believes the last few months have begun to show the positive things that the organization is capable of doing.
Said CNET's Mr. Bonnie, "More of us have been involved ... as we should have been [all along] to move the industry forward."
Copyright February 2001, Crain Communications Inc.