Study: Only a Third of Marketers Aware of IAB’s Rising Stars Units

Undertone says movement to bolder banners held up by brands, publishers playing chicken

Last year the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) expanded its standard ad portfolio with six interactive Rising Stars units in what the trade group’s head of brand initiatives Peter Minnium described at the time as “the most radical change” to portfolio in nearly a decade. There have been questions as to whether that radical change fell on deaf ears among marketers. It has, according to the ad network Undertone.

Only 31 percent of marketers are even heard of the new ad units, according to a survey conducted last month by Undertone. Now, that survey only elicited responses from 133 marketers (plus 546 agency employees and 100 publishers), but Undertone co-founder Eric Franchi called it a “statistically significant sample size.”

The Rising Stars units have better traction among agencies, with 69 percent of agency respondents saying they’ve heard of the units, but “the data is showing there is more education needed,” said Franchi. Undertone, of course, aims to be one of the primary entities behind that push (the company has been looking to establish itself as a leader in moving the Web ad industry forward, even guaranteeing that its ad offerings will be entirely viewable to users).

Naturally, officials from the IAB disagree with Undertone's assessment. Give the Rising Stars initiative some time, they say. "The goal of the Rising Stars is to open up a new category of digital advertising between legacy units used most often for performance buys and custom sponsorships used for branding," said Minnium. "These new units will fill the gap with scale rich media branding formats. This category did not exist a year ago. In another year it will be common currency for brand advertising buyers. Today we estimate that we are midway on that trajectory"

Yet as Undertone sees it, things are moving slow. Part of the problem is that advertisers and publishers are playing chicken with each other. Advertisers are waiting for the units to achieve scale before they invest, whereas publishers are waiting for the ads to attract demand before they tweak their site designs to accommodate them, Franchi said. In fact 52 percent of agency respondents responsible for ad budgets larger than $10 million cited distribution limitations as a key reason for not running Rising Stars ads. And a similar percentage of publishers pointed to website design and limited ad space barely as their main barriers. So what will it take to end the standoff and get the Rising Stars units stepping forward?

“It’s a demand-driven marketplace,” said Franchi. “If we see Rising Stars across more RFPs consistently, that will give publishers the confidence and justification to do the work on their side.”

While the news of brands’ blindness to these banners is likely discouraging for the IAB ahead of its Annual Leadership Meeting next week, there is some cause for optimism. Half of the marketer respondents that deployed one of the Rising Stars in 2012 plans to increase their spend on the units in 2013, and the other half plans to maintain last year’s investment. Of the 84 publishers who said they were aware of the Rising Stars units, 79 percent said they expected demand to increase this year, though 23 percent said it will stay the same as last year.

If demand does pick up, it will likely zero in on two units: the Pushdown and Billboard. Marketers and agencies pointed to those two units as having the most awareness and adoption, and publishers similarly cited them as where they most expect demand to funnel.

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