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New IAB rules signal lean times for bad ads

by Hannah Thompson | 07.09.2017
The IAB’s New Ad Portfolio guidelines, released at the end of the July, aren’t intended for consumer reading, with their talk of ad sizes, subloads, render-blocking elements and gzip utilities. But buried in the detail are two new recommendations that would surely raise a cheer from any web user who has ever tangled with an irritatingly ad-heavy page.

The new principles – right up at the top so no-one misses them – revolve around flexible ad specs and LEAN ads. The former is a specific call for ads and content that scale easily to multiple devices. The latter (an acronym for Light, Encrypted, AdChoices-supported and Non-invasive) is a mini-manifesto for lightweight and non-disruptive ads, and one that attempts to remind brands of something most of them used to know: advertising doesn’t work if it doesn’t put consumers first.

“LEAN ad experience for digital advertising is based on the following principles,” booms the IAB, like a disappointed headmaster who doesn’t plan on saying this twice. “1. Respect: A consumer’s primary objective is consuming publisher content. 2. Control: A consumer has control over his/her advertising experience. 3. Choice: A consumer decides what content he/she wants to experience and for how long.”

Well, obviously. As with Google’s promised Chrome ad-blocker, developed with the Coalition for Better Ads, the IAB is only pointing out that annoying ads annoy people. And if any piece of advertising is to do its job well, it needs to be creative, not resort to silly tricks and not impose itself undesirably on the people it is trying to impress.

A consumer-first, creative-first message is a timely one, and it has been in the wind for a while – not only in an advertising context. Many brands espouse a mantra of focusing on consumers – their satisfaction, their loyalty, their values – in order to fit into their lives, keep on earning their custom and, almost as importantly, avoid their disapproval.

But as much as brands know this, badly-deployed technology has a way of distracting them. Digital marketing has, at various points in its evolution, become hung up on meaningless metrics – the number of clicks or followers generated, the number of impressions served. When you lose sight of the real target – the consumer you are trying to reach – pushy ads, excessive targeting and irrelevant targets start to look tempting.

Increasingly, I think we can see wise brands looking straight through such numbers and returning once again to business fundamentals, such as revenue earned and customers satisfied. As digital has matured, it has become a tool, not just a clever trick, and the refined power of digital methods has sparked a recollection of exactly what brands are trying to achieve.

The IAB’s guidelines are welcome because by warning brands against wearing consumers’ patience thin, they are helping to light up the far more effective path of matching creativity with technology. Target the right customers at the right moment, but do it in a way that legitimately interests, impresses or diverts them.

By following those principles, we are naturally shifting back to an older version of advertising. There’s a reason people remember TV ads but not banner ads; in the shift from analogue days to digital times, we have too often misplaced the magic of advertising. Technology shouldn’t be steering us further away from it, but helping us rediscover it.

Join us on the 19th of October to explore ways in which creative and programmatic can work together to drive engagement with audiences. We will be joined by our friends at The Guardian, Oracle and Adobe to discuss how brands can ‘Bring back the Magic’ of creative excellence and couple this with highly targeted data-led campaigns! Email to reserve your space!