Tim McAtee, Research Director, IPG Media Labs, and Brian Monahan, Managing Partner, MAGNA Global Intelligence Practice, recently worked on research for the IAB Rising Stars ad units and the expansion of the IAB's standard ad unit portfolio. Read the release, and see the units.
Monahan and McAtee discussed large format, display advertising with AdExchanger including the Portrait ad unit that they helped develop with Aol.
AdExchanger: Regarding the development of the Portrait ad, any surprises when you look back to the research and development of that display ad unit?
Tim McAtee: The surprise for me was something really simple - people read from top to bottom and left to right, which is one of the thing's that's so obvious that you shouldn't need research to figure it out. Yet, it took a bunch of eye tracking to actually come to that conclusion and start thinking about the interplay of content and ad space on the screen - in the context of a linear consumption pattern and not a static square.
Brian Monahan: The other thing that was a surprise is that the ad product can bring you the eye. It can hold the eye. The more functionality you offer the users, the more it draws users into the ad. But at the end of the day, when it comes to moving lower funnel metrics, it's really up to the creative.
We’re starting to realize how far the ad product can push the value of that impression, and then where the hand‑off with the creative execution needs to take over to maximize the value of that instance so that the unit can get to the eye. The functionality can get people involved, but the unit can't make up for bad creative.
Can you talk a little bit about the creative - as in the creative person - and the opportunity for them with these larger ad formats?
Brian Monahan: The most talented digital creatives we see coming up through our ranks usually start as developers - because there's this sort of marriage between functionality and storytelling. With Portrait ad we've seen a very compelling feature that draws eyes and interaction. It’s called the “carousel” feature, where you can essentially swipe pictures horizontally. How you thread that into a narrative or a story in that unit is the challenge that the next great generation of creatives are going to be very good at - blending functionality with story.
Tim McAtee: Also to Brian's point, one of the things that we've found is functionality that appears trustworthy is often more likely to get interacted with. A a lot of consumers have been burned by bad ads and misleading ads, or ads that basically blow up their computer. We have to retrain both the ad industry and the consumer market to trust online ads. Some of these newer ads that focus on mouse over interaction as opposed to click interaction will help enable that transition back into a place where people trust ads and they're willing to interact with it, and aren't afraid that they're going to get hijacked.
How do you think Facebook's sponsored stories relates to these larger ad units?
Brian Monahan: Though it wasn't related to the research we did for IAB, we have seen, in past experiments, that ads that are "of the moment" and populated with dynamic updates like you see in the Facebook Sponsored Stories, do lift interaction and recall rates. Whether it's Facebook Sponsored Stories, or stuff that Spongecell and Flite are producing, these rich media ads that are populated with dynamic data which could be social feeds, traffic conditions, weather, anything that's "of the moment." With this move to new, bigger ad units, it seems clear that the industry's going that way and that when you put some bigger ad units on your page you don't piss off your users or necessarily drive them away. It's clear that you're adding more value to the ad inventory. A year from now, I'd be amazed if we don't see significant adoption of newer, larger units.
Tim, do you want to add anything to that?
Tim McAtee: Social advertising, when manipulated by advertisers in a pure social form often backfires because consumers aren't dumb. They can see that somebody's trying to manipulate them. But when you add in a social layer and advertisers are obvious about where they're getting the data and quotes from and they use sources, the consumer understands they're fair game. For example, Twitter is totally fair game. Everyone understands that anything you post on Twitter goes to the universe. Whereas, Facebook, for the most part, people feel is private. I don't know. I'm a little more skeptical about Facebook posts being used for sponsored stories compared to Twitter comments being used to sell products.
The social layer is going to be important, both from an algorithmic aspect in terms of targeting and finding the friends of people who like a product. It can also play a very interesting role as one more color in the creative developer's palette. But as a standalone, it often does not pass the creepy test.
Do you guys have any sense of how a “large format ads” ad network is going to play out?
Brian Monahan: It’s all about scale. There are going to be buyers in the market looking to buy these big, functional ad units. They're going to want to buy from people who can clear significant volume. So really, the question's going to come down to how quickly publishers adopt the Rising Star ad unit. If adoption is spotty overall, things like the AOL Devil ad network (or portrait unit network) are going to benefit because they're going to be one of the relatively few places you can go to buy significant scale. If everybody quickly flips over and everybody selling portrait units, then I don't know why the AOL portrait network would have an unusual advantage relative to what's currently on the market with the network dynamics.
The evidence coming in about the enhanced value of these larger units, combined with what I would suggest is an iPad-inspired design aesthetic to digital media, and we're going to see rapid adoption of these larger ad formats. There's a near term opportunity for aggregators like AOL to provide a real service. But, brands are going to demand it. Creative is going to demand it. Once we turn our algorithms loose on these things, the results are going to demand it. It seems inevitable to me.
Tim McAtee: Sometimes you just have to sit back and let economics take over and just see how it falls out. The value of these things is dependent and tied to privacy laws, tied to scarcity and all these larger issues that somebody like AOL doesn't necessarily have any control over. If Congress bans tracking suddenly, there goes a bunch of your targeting right there and all of a sudden we're back to bulk tonnage and eyeballs instead of talking to the right person at the right time.
The other thing that makes me nervous about these big ads is if publishers just add these big ads to pages that already are cluttered and just increase the clutter. That’s not going to help anybody and further alienate consumers.
The ad units, in and of themselves, are absolutely a step in the right direction. But the whole environment needs to change to a point where you're giving somebody one or two impressions that really move the needle rather than 50 impressions that get ignored and, if anything, move the needle to a negative place -which happens all the time.
By John Ebbert