Standards Stand-off Over Online Ads

standoffEarlier this year, MSNBC .com President Charles Tillinghast said that while high end video, custom brand units, and low end contextually targeted text links maintained steady sales volume, the trouble was in the middle of the market: Traditional display ads. These original online ad units were standardized by the IAB and helped drive the explosive growth of the online ad industry. Tillinghast says the proliferation of ad networks has created over supply of inventory and commoditized publisher’s display ads. To counter this, he said would create additional nonstandard ads with more sophisticated interactivity and targeting that would not be made available to ad networks. To that end, the Online Publishers Association has announced a month later standards for new, large ad formats that have started to appear on member sites. Saul Hansell of The New York Times conveniently summed this up: “When the going gets tough, the ads get bigger.”

Wednesday, in an article for iMedia Connection, Eric Picard of Microsoft’s Ad Platform Engineering team suggested an alternative fix may be needed. Rather than more customization and branded entertainment endeavors, why not leverage the standards and mass inventory of display ads and automate the whole sales process? Scale and workflow are consistent challenges for display buyers. If the display market is softening, couldn’t automation satisfy publishers and buyers by removing human friction and allowing more inventory to be sold more quickly?