Truly Cross-Screen Creative: A Revolution Unfolds


by Joe Laszlo

The IAB’s recent update to its current cannon of industry standards and guidelines encourages cross-screen advertising. However, the need to optimize creative still remains.

It’s been a busy summer for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). As everyone relaxed at the beach, IAB worked to modernize the standard ad units. These advances will better position the digital media industry to deliver ad experiences that function seamlessly across screens, from design through execution.

This is keeping with the biggest industry trend in digital. While we may live in a mobile-first world, we don’t live in a mobile-only world. Rather than treat each digital medium separately, ad buyers and sellers alike generally prefer to think holistically about digital advertising in terms of planning, creative, and measurement.

On the creative front, three recent developments stand out:

1. Updates to “IAB Display Creative Guidelines” That Accommodate HTML5

In August, the IAB Tech Lab released a comprehensive update to its core “Display Creative Guidelines” – the standard ad unit specs – to make them HTML5 ready. IAB didn’t change the ad sizes themselves. The beloved 300×250 is still there, along with all of its fellows in the ad unit portfolio, but IAB did change their details.

Generally speaking, an ad written in HTML5 is a little bigger than the same ad written in Flash. Adjustments made by IAB mainly involved revising the file sizes upwards, as well as providing some guidance for using HTML5 to build them.

The public comment period for the revised guidelines recently closed. However, the group that is currently managing the project aims to release the final guidelines in mid-October.

2. Updates to “IAB Digital Video In-Stream Ad Format Guidelines & Best Practices”

Just a few weeks ago, the IAB Tech Lab also released a significant update to the “Digital Video In-Stream Ad Format Guidelines & Best Practices.” This focuses on aligning the creative format standards with the “IAB Video Suite.”

The new guidelines change the requirements for video ad files, helping ensure that the optimal video ad experience can be delivered to a viewer regardless of what device or network connection they happen to be using. These guidelines will be out for public comment until mid-October.

3. “IAB Deep-Dive on In-Feed Ad Units” Debuts

For those focused on in-feed or native ad experiences, the IAB Native Ads Task Force launched the “IAB Deep-Dive on In-Feed Ad Units” in July. This composition provides explicit guidance to agencies and brands around the various types of in-feed ads. It also explains how to align in-feed creative executions with their media environments to best deliver on advertiser goals and expectations. Additionally, these guidelines are designed to be equally relevant for ads on both mobile and desktop, helping in-feed ad buyers and sellers work easily across screens.

It’s gratifying to see the industry embrace the idea that all digital ads should be built in HTML5, and to see more and more examples of great ad campaigns built using the standard. However, I’m the first to admit that the ad format guidelines were lagging behind the industry’s momentum. Updates to the display and video ad format guideline arrived not a moment too soon.

Yet, much still remains to be done on the creative front. Continued efforts to educate the agency and brand community will definitely bear fruit. Periodically, I’ll still hear anecdotes about mobile campaigns in which the creative assets are delivered in Flash. However, I’m happy to say that this happens far less frequently than it did a couple of years ago.

The standard ad portfolio itself is due for a review, with an eye to focus on a smaller number of units with maximal value. Tiny feature phone sizes should go gracefully into the sunset, along with some of the less-used legacy desktop sizes as well.

IAB’s Tech Lab is watching the impact of the new guidelines closely; there is a razor’s edge between file sizes. Files that are just big enough in size allow for great ad experiences. On the other hand, files that are too large introduce page load latencies or lack the time to render either on a page or in an app before a viewer moves on.

In addition, we should also be cognizant of the risk that guidelines encouraging cross-screen advertising may potentially enable campaigns to use the exact same creative execution for all different devices in the media plan. Current research and case studies show that what may work for mobile video or rich media ads may not necessarily work for desktop or TV. Ad executions still need to optimize creative for the device or devices on which it is running.

So the revolution’s not done yet. However, the industry has collectively moved a long way from the sharply-divided desktop and mobile creative worlds of a year ago. I think that’s progress worth celebrating.