I recently had the incredible opportunity to attend the IAB Ad Operations Summit held each year in New York. Notable industry figures and leaders were in attendance to discuss advancements made during the last year and new developments/standards for the coming future during the one day session. The Ad Operations summit is unique in that it touches upon technologies and guidelines pertaining to the often times “behind the scenes” folks working in the industry. In total, there were 400+ ad ops professionals in attendance lead by Scott Cunningham, Vice President of Technology and Ad Operations at IAB and General Manager of the IAB Tech Lab. This was my first time to visit the Big Apple and the summit provided key takeaways surrounding guidelines, validation, digital user experiences and the current state of viewability.
One key principle that was heavily discussed was the IAB’s newly released L.E.A.N Ads Principles. The developed principles stand for Light, Encrypted, Ad Choice Supported and Non-invasive ads. The reason these set of standards were created for marketers was to re-tailor the digital advertising experience for the consumers we are trying to reach. Cunningham noted we as advertisers have made a mistake and lost focus due to heavier ads, the number of ads per page and abuse of hyper scalable targeting. He communicated that this has diminished the user experience by slowing down internet loading speeds and even causing draining mobile device battery life. This created the perfect storm and users have responded and pushed back to the IAB. A big discussion point that resonated specifically with me was the point of moderation and retargeting users appropriately. Pertaining to retargeting, we must always ensure that we are only retargeting a user before they purchase a product online and not continue to retarget that user thereon post purchase. I myself have often times experienced being followed around the web relentlessly after visiting a site and viewing specific items. It is uncomfortable and deteriorates your experience navigating the web. Another important point that was made regarding viewability was the shear number of ads displayed on a page. To combat viewability issues, publishers have been challenged to rethink the adslots they have on their site and to optimize them for viewability.
Another key highlight and takeaway was the public comment release of the VAST 4.0 ad serving template. Digital video ads have often plagued users with heavy, high-quality videos that vastly slow down load times. Video ads need to be able to decide to served a lower quality video based on a users connection to again optimize the experience. The VAST 4.0 update features will help solve this issue among others listed below:
VAST 4.0 Updates (Source: IAB):
- Server-side Support – VAST 4.0 supports “ad-stitching” or providing linear video ads in a stream to players with limited capabilities using server-to-server methods.
- Mezzanine File and Creative ID – Enabling advertising across video platforms that include long-form content, high-resolution screens, and advertiser requirements for tracking ad creative, VAST 4.0 includes support for raw, high-quality mezzanine files and international creative ID programs (such as Ad-ID in the U.S.).
- Ad Verification and Viewability Execution – VAST 4.0 contains a light script object to simplify ad verification using VAST instead of complicating VPAID use and interfering with the video viewing experience.
- Category Support – The introduction of ad categories will allow video publishers to separate competing ad creatives and improve brand safety.
- Conditional Ad Declaration – A declaration in VAST for a conditional ad helps publishers prevent and reclaim any potentially lost inventory revenue in programmatic ad delivery.
Moving on to creative, Rawle Curtis, Technical Director of Digital Advertising at R/GA, lead a presentation on the resent HTML5 conversion he coined “bannerpocalypse.” The big HTML5 promise is basically code once and deploy everywhere. This creates a unified experience for users across all of their devices (again, harping back towards the theme of the end user experience). Curtis commented that the true current reality for HTML5 is that approximately 80% of web browsers are supported. In the current environment, there is not a 100% guarantee for full delivery. His future recommendations were to have video fallbacks, device optimization and lower adjusted bids if static assets are served. Curtis also communicated from RG/A’s learning’s their solutions and strategies for managing the transition. He stressed the importance of communication with creative teams and the ability to be the expert and take responsibility to know the landscape. In terms of development efficiency, tools are your friend and were his team’s key to maintaining development efficiency. Curtis’s recommended essential tools to have specifically surrounded task runners including: Grunt, Codekit and Gulp. These tools help automatically update your creatives code and saves his team hours. He heavily stressed to make sure your developers are using these tools or else they are “shooting themselves in the foot.”
Jumping to validation, the IAB Tech Lab provided highlights on the tools they have been working on and future tool developments. One of the key tools that was actually demoed was the HTML5 Ad Validator 1.0 tool. During the summit, I was able to register with the IAB Tech Lab and actively test and evaluate one of my own creative files (screenshot below). The tool evaluates your HTML5 zip folder for the number of files, file weight excluding libraries, file weight and compressed and uncompressed sizes. An addition to this tool I would have liked to have seen was an actual creative preview window. I think this will be a future addition based on feedback and would not be surprised to see it in the next version number.
Finally the discussion moved on towards the hot topic of viewability and its current state. From an overall standpoint, we are not currently there in terms of having a set standard of viewability. The reason for this is due to the need for more testing, specifications and the need for a viewability addendum. Mobile viewability is very important to the growth and it is currently being tested by the IAB. George Ivie, Cheif Executive Officer, Executive Director of the Media Rating Council (MRC) provided an update as well. Ivie said most of the viewability currency measures today are in a transitional state. The MRC’s focus to date is being able to measure ad delivery and is actively working on measuring mobile by using learning’s from desktop. The MRC’s road map is to establish a defined and trusted set of engagement/effective measures. Regarding device types, there is already desktop viewable impressions guidelines and it is expected to have mobile guidelines by the end of Q4 2015. James Deaker, Vice President, Revenue Management and Policy at Yahoo, discussed what his team has learned after running countless campaigns where viewability was a factor. Deaker suggests advertisers pick a small number of vendors and build deep relationships with those vendors. If you test too many, the data becomes gray and becomes difficult to manage. Before running a campaign, make sure you know viewability is an objective of the campaign upfront. Deaker recommends advertisers manage the gap between the MRC and IAB adoption by using vendors. Before scaling a viewable impression focused campaign, he of course suggested to test extensively.
In closing, these were the key takeaways I had from the summit, however more topics were covered. Stay tuned for additional posts that will highlight additional topics including embracing operational change, the value of pre-header bidding and the challenges of ad blocking. I would also like to provide a big thank you to the PMG leadership team for granting me the opportunity to attend this annual summit. Navigating New York for the first time had its challenges but overall was a great experience that I will never forget.