New flexible online ad formats help fight adblockers

A new range of recommended sizes and flexible formats of online adverts has been launched by the internet advertising industry to improve the web experience for consumers and publishers, adapt to changes in mobile technology and counter the rise of ad-blockers. In this article we’ll explain the new online ad formats in more detail, give our opinion and look at the technical transition for publishers and advertisers.

To counteract the rising use of ad-blockers, online advertisers and publishers need to recognise that people go to websites to consume content. Yes, the adverts pay for that content but if the adverts are putting people off or getting blocked, nobody’s winning.

Therefore, to try and make websites a more pleasant place to browse and surf, the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), the trade association for online and mobile advertising, has designed a new ‘standard ad unit portfolio’ that aims to improve user experience and reduce the use of adblockers. The new ad formats are based on HTML5 technology to be flexible, or responsive, across various sizes of screen — desktop to tablet to mobile. Just as importantly, all ads should begin to conform to the principles of the ‘LEAN’ initiative which calls for ads to have a Light file size, be Encrypted, be enabled for Ad Choices and be Non-invasive.

In short, if all ads conform to the new portfolio formats, it should be easier for advertisers, publishers and website users. It also means, some advert formats disliked by consumers will no longer be supported, including auto play ads, pop-ups, auto-expanding, ads with countdowns, floating ads and all fixed-sized ads.

The new ad formats include display ads and native ads, together with ‘new content experiences’ like virtual reality, augmented reality and 360-degree video ads, as well as digital advertising that uses emojis, stickers and more.

Admitting that the previous range of adverts offered by websites was perhaps not the most user-friendly, IAB UK gathered industry feedback and conducted consumer research and testing in order to design all the elements of the overhaul. It expects the new formats will result in a better experience for consumers and should make things simpler for the industry as the current portfolio of 33 different ad formats has been reduced dramatically.

A consultation on the portfolio will run with consumers and the industry until Monday 28 November – if you have any comments you can email newadportfolio@iab.com. Feedback could lead to some revisions or else a final version will be confirmed in early 2017.

“These represent the next generation of online ads and will suit all parties involved,” said Steve Chester, the IAB’s Director of Data & Industry Programmes. “Consumers will get a better ad experience whilst the industry can focus on a smaller number of ad formats which significantly reduces complexity. It’s all about quality over quantity – a mantra the digital industry perhaps hasn’t adhered to often enough – which should help reduce ad blocking.”

Our take

At The Internet Works we think promoting a portfolio that uses the LEAN principles is a positive development for publishers, advertisers and, above all, users.

Since HTML5 ad creatives first came through after Flash ads were phased out, everyone has struggled with the file weights of their ads, so the principles of lightweight and non-invasive ads should be welcomed especially as it may mean fewer people have a poor experience of advertising — and slow load times — leading to fewer ad blockers being used.

There are loads of sites that I visit that I immediately bounce away from just because the ads are so intrusive and load times so slow.

At TIW we think we’re pretty good at balancing revenue-driving creatives with end-user experience with the publishers we work with, but a lot of other publishers are not and are happy to plug pretty much anything into their sites to drive revenue.

How the new online ad formats look in practice

The IAB has provided some graphics to help you visualise how the guidelines are likely to be put into practice.

So in the image below, we see below the ad featuring a hooded female model and some black and pink text. The ad creative that starts with a square 1:1 ratio can automatically adapt, what is known as ‘responsively’, without needing to change the parameters of the design, into a 1:2 ratio to fit into a different section, or different website or across different devices.

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…and then again in to a taller and thinner 1:3 ratio based on the same flexible creative.

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And it’s no different for landscape ads, as they can go from 4:1 …

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…to 6:1, 8:1 and 10:1 thanks to the same responsive HTML5 code…

new-ad-portfolio-home-vert1

Would a video be helpful?

If the written word is not enough, the IAB have helpfully expressed themselves via a webinar, which holds your hand to walk you through the new online ad formats:

The finer details of the new online ad formats

Screen resolution is not something that some publishers might have thought about before. But with an increasing amount of people consuming media on their phones, as well as moving between their work desktops or tablets, devices are also presenting websites and there adverts on them in multiple screen resolutions.

Publisher’s content therefore needs to be delivered to multiple screen sizes and requires ads that can respond to multiple sizes. At the moment this often means producing lots of different creative and hosting lots of different files on the adserver. Under the new guidelines, the design of the ad creative needs to be fluid enough to shift into different sizes without losing its original message and impact. The guidelines set out flexible ad sizes based on aspect ratio so that the fidelity of the creative can be maintained across different screen sizes and resolutions.

Every ad designed according to the new ad portfolio should be a LEAN advert, which means any ad unit can deploy any ad experience as long as it complies with file weight, initial load, subload, and file requests guidance (full details of the draft IAB standard ad unit portfolio is on their site).

According to the IAB, all guidance is based on HTML5 technology and has been derived based on industry surveys, user research and testing, including:
1. An study of attitudes and usage to determine which of the ad units in the current portfolio, contribute to the majority of revenue and are sufficient to advertise across multiple screen sizes
2. Deep assessment of the minimum file weights required to deliver ad assets of specific sizes to user devices
3. Transition testing to determine how to adopt the new guidance
4. The findings of the IAB Ad Blocking report.

How publishers and advertisers should transition to the new ad formats

Adopting the principles of the new ad portfolio for your future adverts, publishers and advertisers will need to make two main changes.

Firstly, adopt the LEAN guidance: change file weights for initial loads, implementing subload criteria and complying with new LEAN guidance on ad functionality – there’s deeper details in the IAB’s helpful creative guidelines, including all sorts of lovely techy stuff.

Second is conforming to the new flexible-size ads, which means publishers implementing ad containers based on aspect ratio, and advertisers creating flexible ad creatives that can adjust size while maintaining aspect ratio based on screen size.

There’s way more detail on the IAB’s dedicated microsite, including more specific guidelines for publishers on changing the parameters that control the size of the ad containers through ‘div’ or ‘iframe’ tags, the recommended fixed-size ad units for transition with LEAN compliant file weights, etc and so on.

Written by

TIW's head of content. He writes things, mostly content for clients but also TIW blogs. Client content ranges from bespoke web copywriting to business and sports journalism for the likes of ITV, Digital Look, Reuters and the Olympic News Agency.

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