Setting standards for online ads a tricky task

Setting standards for online ads a tricky task

Variety is not always the spice of life. If anything, it’s proving to be the bane of online advertising, with advertisers demanding all kinds of innovations to connect with audiences in these harrowing times.

That spells huge production costs and time spent, given that each online ad can have umpteen sizes and specifications and be presented in diverse ways. A digital specialist tells me that these costs can range from 2-4% of media costs, higher than usual for offline ads.

An article from research agency R3 mentions that the China Advertising Association’s digital committee will roll out Internet standards this year.

It hopes to gradually consolidate advertising standards in the industry to make it easier for digital advertising to sell and reduce production costs. That will be welcome relief for the country’s digital advertising industry, which is labouring under at least 17,000 types of specifications. The most popular 199 types could become the standard recommended, notes the article.

In contrast, there are about 25-30 sizes and specifications that are used most in online ads in India, digital specialists tell me. This sounds fairly streamlined compared with China’s proliferation, but Mahesh Murthy, founder and chief executive of digital marketing firm Pinstorm, assures me this is still too many and complex, and means high production costs and time. In his estimation, one would need a team of five people working three 12-hour shifts to produce 30 variations of online interactive ads.

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Too much of a good thing can also be a creative inhibitor, as some ads would have to be modified or squished to fit into different sizes and creative formats. Kanika Mathur, president and co-founder of marketing services and digital marketing agency Solutions Digitas, says a wide range of ad formats allow agencies to be creative and ensure these do not interrupt the viewer’s online experience. “But standardization of key sizes, click-tagging and production guidelines will surely help agencies roll out and refresh campaigns faster, and deploy them across a wider network."

Some of the earlier innovative formats, such as peel-back expanding graphic rollovers and video pre-rolls, have become fairly popular, though still not standardized in terms of specification, says Mathur.

Meanwhile, Publicis Groupe SA’s digital network VivaKi is activating what is calls The Pool—an industry programme that brings together the financial resources and thought leadership of its clients and a host of content providers in the US to test and create industry standards for online video ads. Standardization would also be more relevant in terms of reports and data on how ads are delivered online; this can help agencies compare the success rates for different platforms and networks, and realign creative content and budgets better, says Mathur.

All this makes me wonder why we can’t push for more standardization of Internet and mobile advertising here in terms of dimensions, technical standards and capacities. Standardization is, however, easier talked about than implemented. Portals and advertisers have differing opinions on which specifications, among others, should be standardized. Murthy recalls how the first standardization effort was attempted a long time back by the Internet Advertising Bureau in the US.

This was impeded by portals which wanted the freedom to carry any dimension and weight of ad—multimedia elements and flash, among others.

A digital specialist notes that in these times, as advertisers push for innovations, many publishers are more than eager to please. They are open to carrying different sizes, placements and colours. Now that’s a vicious circle.

Also, out of the Top 10 websites in India, about five, which include Gmail and Orkut, are owned by Google Inc., explains Murthy. This makes standardization tricky, since international publishers follow different norms and standards from ours, and they, too, are grappling with standardization issues. Even though Internet ad bodies overseas may have suggested various sets of sizes, among others, as guidelines, these are not enforceable, he adds.

Amar Deep Singh, vice-president, business development of full-service digital agency Interactive Avenues Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd, agrees that standards will help the Internet ad business grow but believes these are difficult to enforce. “Just as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (headquartered in New York) has its standards for specifications, quality, etc., we need a more India-specific standard to be established which can be used by various players, and over a period of time it will be the most acceptable standard."

Beyond Internet ads, though, is the bigger issue of digital ad mobile screens. Mobile phone advertising may be the next big thing for us but this medium has 3,000 specifications based on screen sizes, programme formats and systems, resolutions and text, says Murthy. Already a huge issue in mobile-rich China, here’s another standardization nightmare awaiting the advertising industry.

Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your feedback is welcome at