When it comes to advertising, SAY Media president Troy Young says, "Digital has moved us backward." That's an odd statement coming from an executive at an online media and advertising company, but Say is pushing for a new kind of Web experience, exemplified in a new initiative that the company calls its "Clean Campaign."
The campaign is basically a set of principles that SAY (which was formed by the merger of ad startup VideoEgg with blog platform Six Apart) plans to pursue with all of its properties. And the company is also unveiling a new ad format, called AdFrames, which could help turn those big ideas into a reality.
As outlined by Young, there are three main ideas in the Clean Campaign: a clear editorial vision, a well-designed website, and premium advertising that complements the content. That may sound a bit generic, but in practice, Young says it means pushing against the prevailing trends on the Web, where articles are piled on top of each other in table-format layouts, and then surrounded by ads. Instead, Say is pushing its sites to embrace cleaner designs, usually with only one ad on each page, presenting a better experience for readers and for premium ads.
In some ways, this seems like an articulation of the vision that SAY has already been pursuing with sites like XOJane, which it launched with former Jane and Sassy editor Jane Pratt. The site isn't laid out in the normal blog style, and there's a lone ad on its front page, which often opens into an interactive, multimedia mini-site when you click on it. The AdFrames format goes further in this direction, with faster load times, a larger canvas, and social network integration.
Young says the company wants to take this approach with sites whether they're created within SAY (like XOJane), acquired by SAY (like home design site Remodelista), or just run advertising from the company (like SplatF, the new tech site by former Business Insider writer Dan Frommer)—"as long as we can get the right experience, as long as it's high-quality content."
But are SAY and its partners really willing to sacrifice the revenue of additional ads in the hope of attracting premium rates? Young is adamant that brand advertisers will be willing to pay higher price if they're presented with the right experience and audience, but he adds, "Site structure has something to do with it. Some properties have 15 posts on a page, which means that a single ad unit has to support 15 pieces of content." Most SAY Media sites, however, follow what Young calls a "one article, one ad" approach, with a magazine-style layout, where you have to click through to read each article—giving SAY another opportunity to show you an ad.