Top Web Publishers Pledge Bigger Ads

NEW YORK Faced with a deepening recession and declining display ad rates, some of the top Web publishers are countering with a new offer: bigger ads.
The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ESPN and over a dozen more of the Web’s most-trafficked sites that belong to the Online Publishers Association have agreed to run three new ad units that they hope will lure brand advertising dollars.

The new units are:

• The fixed panel, a 336-by-860-pixel banner that is wider than the standard skyscraper and follows users as they scroll down the page.

• The XXL box, a 468-by-648-pixel unit that can expand with video.

• The pushdown, a 970-by-418-pixel placement that takes up over half of the page before rolling up.
The idea is for the OPA sites, which represent 108 million monthly users, to bridge the divide between customized brand ad options and the need for standard formats. The new advertising units will operate outside the industry’s standard specifications set by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
“As we talk to the agency community, one of the things we hear is they need new creative ways to connect with our audiences on the page,” said Pam Horan, president of the OPA. “These ad units are providing a new palette for them to connect with the audience.”
The participating OPA sites will make the units available in July.
The push comes as big-name publishers struggle against the commoditization of online advertising that’s slowing revenue growth in their digital operations. The proliferation of ad networks and the abundance of impressions have driven down ad prices.

The hope is that these larger ads, which will be sold only through publisher sales forces, are one way to restore value to ad inventory, said Mike Fogarty, group publisher at Babycenter, which signed on to run the new units.

“We need to make sure we’re not just competing in the same way as other ad platforms and networks are for ad dollars,” he said. “We need to remember the role of the publisher, which is not just a place for marketers to place ads. We’d like to partner with marketers to create more branding opportunities.”

The Web industry has agreed on a standard set of five ad specifications for display units, a “universal ad package” developed by the IAB in 2003. That’s helped make the industry more efficient, but some have questioned whether such efficiency comes at the price of innovation.
“This hopefully will kick off a broad sweeping process to reinvent the medium as a better branding vehicle,” Fogarty said. “[Advertisers] want stuff that’s bold.”
The move comes as more attention is paid to the death of creativity in much of online advertising. IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg has made improving interactive ad creativity a top priority for the industry.

The IAB created an agency advisory council to participate in the development of new ad standards, which Rothenberg last week said would likely include larger formats.

The IAB welcomed the OPA move. “The IAB believes that the OPA initiative can serve as a reminder that the Web is far more than a direct-response medium,” the group said in a statement. “The IAB is working with our member companies, as well as marketers and agencies, on a strategic effort to reimagine display advertising so brands can fully leverage greater creativity and innovation in interactive advertising.”
Some of the new units have already been put to use. The Times and WSJ have run versions of the pull-down unit for Apple recently on their Web sites.
Horan disputed the notion that the new focus on providing a larger canvas to advertisers would not come at the expense of users. Bigger ads could mean fewer on the page, she pointed out.
“We’re trying to potentially reduce the clutter on the page,” she said. “We’re really trying to provide an experience where there isn’t competition for the eyeballs. We’re not going into this hoping this is more intrusive.”