Economy Drives Ad Innovation Once Again…and Direct Marketers Are Back in Full Force

It’s happening all over again. Check this out:
OPA Members Strive For Higher Impact In Online Ads
Members of the OPA are launching new ad units, much larger than current IAB sizes. Here they are (quoted from previous Mediapost article):
1. The Fixed Panel (recommended dimension is 336 wide x 860 tall), intended to appear naturally embedded into the page layout, and scrolls to the top and bottom of the page as a user goes up or down the page.
2. The XXL Box (468 x 648), providing page-turn functionality and video capability and expandable to 936 x 648.
3. The Pushdown (970 x 418), which opens to display the advertisement and then rolls up to the top of the page (collapsing to 970 x 66).
Back in 2001 when the dot-com bust was upon us, I was at Yahoo! and we worked with the IAB to roll out and standardize new larger ad sizes, which you see at the IAB ad size standards page. In fact, the industry had grabbed hold of a lot of the new ad units already and Yahoo! was painfully behind in adopting the new standards until the industry had just tanked, and the major source of ad dollars during the dot-com boom had disappeared – other over funded dot-coms who all but died in/around 2001. Yahoo!, along with all the other publishers were forced to adopt new larger ad sizes and introduce new ad experiences to woo advertisers onto their sites.
It worked great. New larger ad sizes were standardized, new ad experiences were conceived and offered like expandable ads and floating ads – we gave advertisers more opportunity to do what they do best: create WOW.
As time goes on, these ad units became commoditized both in the eyes of advertisers and users. They weren’t special anymore, so prices that advertisers will pay dropped and users got used to them and starting ignoring them.
But it seems like it took yet another economic downturn to create innovation in ad units. Isn’t this dumb? It would seem to me that publishers should take an active role in managing the roll out of new ad units and ad experiences on a regular basis to keep interest in them high from an advertiser and user perspective, and thus prices and value are also kept high. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. At least now the industry is forced to introduce new things into the marketplace.
The other funny thing that is happening again is the rise of the direct marketer in graphical ads. When all the dot-coms died back in 2001, ad units from known brands disappeared and all that were left were ads from direct marketers. These ads were the best of the best in deception – there were tons of ads that looked like dialog boxes and read “Your hard drive is deleting! click here to stop”. They were also just inapprorpriate – I remember an ad that had a picture of an old lady lying on the ground that read, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Awful stuff. At Yahoo! we created strict content guidelines that just got rid of all these ads AND we worked super hard at bringing traditional brands onto Yahoo! so that we eliminated our revenue dependence on these direct marketers.
But they’re back:
Ad Recession Brings on the Belly Fat
While these ads aren’t deceptive, they are pretty offensive in their design. But yet, they are effective at driving traffic to lose weight websites as they offend the rest of the population. And they aren’t all that wonderful at creating a great brand experience within anyone’s website. This is why all the male enhancement ads are placed all the way in the back of popular men’s magazines; if you saw them in within their main content pages, you might think that this men’s magazine has an undesirable perception amongst its readers.
The same will happen to websites if these ads are found on their pages. Do you want your brand tarnished by the ads that run on your pages?
In the short term, direct marketers have the cash. Perhaps we are forced to take these ads in the short term as we figure out new ways to generate revenue. I hope that in this case, history repeats itself in that the industry will innovate yet again and more desirable advertiser dollars will flow into the ecosystem. But instead of getting rid of direct marketers, can’t we find a way to help them create more acceptable ads from a design perspective but are ALSO as effective?