A Call To Action: Long Live Autoplay Video

Did you hear the news? The IAB is drafting new specs for display. Banners will now be responsive across all screens and generally less intrusive. Do you like pushdowns? Well, those are likely going away along with most of what we would consider rich media, including rollover effects. There is however one carve out: the video progressive. Sort of…

The current draft of the IAB’s new guidelines disallows autoplay video except in very specific circumstances. One such example dictates that progressives may only autoplay “…when a user is on Wi-Fi or broadband Internet connections.” That’s actually not a bad idea, but the problem is there technically no way to detect if a user is on a Wi-Fi connection via the web browser.

Play/pause functionality must also be added, but what’s most notable is that file sizes, particularly for large billboard units, are being significantly limited. What this means is that your 970×250 marquee unit will only autoplay 3-5 seconds of video (assuming Wi-Fi is detected).

The good news is that the IAB’s public comment period is open until November 28, 2016, and your input matters!

The entertainment industry has been a responsible champion of the in-banner video progressive unit for over a decade. The format has been the workhorse of entertainment advertisers and has persisted because it is a cost-effective way to market original content to your target audience. If you’d like to continue to see your quality digital creative in front of moviegoers, I’d suggest sending a quick note to the IAB committee letting them know that polite video loading is important to your business. Feel free to use my sample letter below and email newadportfolio@iab.com:

RE: IAB New Ad Portfolio – Comment

Dear IAB:

As an advertiser, autoplay video is an important part of my toolkit. The proposed guidelines for a new Standard Ad Unit Portfolio place severe and arbitrary restrictions on the use of autoplay in-banner video and should be modified prior to final issuance. Polite video subloads should be included expressly in the new display specifications, as in the current HTML5 specifications, and autoplay video guidelines should consider the overall page load experience as opposed to placing arbitrary limits on single ad units.

I believe in the responsible use of autoplay video, and that decisions on the use of autoplay formats should be made by publishers and advertisers on a case-by-case basis. The proposed guidelines are simply too restrictive and should consider a more balanced approach.

Best Practices for Video Game Marketers

How to leverage video assets for maximum impact

The technology behind modern video games is mind boggling. To think that in two short decades, the average gamer went from zooming around the Mario Kart 64 track to now being immersed in the fully connected, massively multiplayer world of a game such as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, is really a modern marvel.

For the digital marketer, the progress of the product has been hard to match to marketing tools that can showcase the dazzling technology and creativity behind modern game titles. How does a marketer explain the groundbreaking visuals of a new release to a target audience using relatively simple HTML5 animations?

This may seem obvious, but video games are video, and at Addroid we believe video should be used for marketing video games. Simple as that. But simply ‘adding more video’ to campaigns is not enough, video needs to be used in the right way. Below are the best practices we have gathered in our experience with video game campaigns using Addroid’s video display platform:

  1. Tailor your strategy to include the various types of video creative available

    A video game release typically involves three types of video creative: i) cinematic, ii) gameplay, and iii) game mechanics. As you design the user journey for a game release campaign, these three creative types should be used for different purchase stages along the way.

  2. Use cinematic video to tell the story and drive awareness

    Cinematic or trailer video tells the story of the new game title. Many hours are spent by game developers and creative teams to create compelling trailer videos, and this creative should be leveraged to the maximum extent possible for driving awareness. When designing video display ads using cinematic footage, we suggest the following:

    1. Make your ads short and sweet. 15 seconds is the ideal length for autoplay video display banners. Trailers can be 2-3 minutes long, so you’ll need to be choosy with your edits.
    2. Use copy cards to tell the story. A few well placed copy cards between video scenes can tell the story in a bite-sized way. Since display ads are muted by default, copy cards are necessary to communicate key ideas.
    3. Think of your ads as a mini trailer. Each ad treatment should be a trailer of its own, and should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
    4. Awareness needs reach. In order to achieve frequency in your campaign, you will need to push media into the far corners of the web, including tablet and mobile. Video display placements (banners) can be found virtually anywhere, and when run in parallel with pre-roll/mid-roll you can achieve maximum exposure of the cinematic video creative.
  3. Use gameplay video to qualify prospects

    Once your awareness push is in full swing, the next stage on the user journey is to entice and qualify consumers using gameplay video. Using data management and audience segmentation, consumers can be moved down your funnel and further qualified. Gameplay video creative is ideal for this purpose as it showcases engaging aspects of the gameplay, and appeals to potential buyers by testing preferences.

    1. Use gameplay video after awareness. Ideally your data platform can segment audience members who have seen or engaged with your cinematic video. Whether or not, your next push should expose the target audience or segments to various gameplay videos to qualify prospects towards purchase.
    2. Test various versions to expose preferences. Gameplay video offers an opportunity to test multiple videos in display ads to expose which perform better. At a minimum you should be testing two variations (A/B) and optimizing ad serving based on the best performing video.
    3. Drive towards the goal. The goal in this phase is qualification of potential purchasers, and both ad engagement / click-thru and website interaction should be used as guideposts. Make sure to tag your landing pages thoroughly so engaged fans can be segmented for later stages.
  4. Use mechanics video to drive prospects to purchase

    We think of mechanics video as a showcase for the product detail that your biggest fans want to learn about. Once a prospect is aware of the game release, and has been exposed to the gameplay, mechanics video is the last step towards driving a purchase.

    In some cases mechanics video is produced separately, and in others the gameplay video that performed best in earlier flights is updated with copy cards and new information. The overall goal is to drive users to purchase when the game is available for sale, using messaging that reinforces the value perceived by interested consumers.

  5. Three examples of mechanics messaging are below:

    1. “Over 400 Hours Of Unique Gameplay – Buy Now”
    2. “Choose Up To Five Soldiers For Your Elite Unit – Battle Now”
    3. “Kings Are Born, But Emperors Rise Up – Build Your Empire”

    Combining the correct messaging with video creative results in better performing ads. Addroid video display units see an average of 3x performance over static display ads, and more than 20% higher performance than standard HTML5 animated ads.

    To summarize, video creative is essential for marketing video games. The smart digital marketer now has tools to better leverage video creative in a cost effective way, which means marketers can reach target audiences at scale with video creative using tailored messaging. Addroid’s video display platform enables marketers to create high quality video display units with ease, increasing velocity and consistency for large campaigns, and ensuring cross-platform compatibility and measurement beyond what HTML5 can achieve.

MovieTickets.com And Addroid Announce Partnership For Launch Of Outstream Mobile Video Product

LOS ANGELES, May 10, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Responding to demands by advertisers for more mobile video advertising opportunities, MovieTickets.com, a leading global provider of remote movie ticketing, and the digital advertising software company Addroid have today announced a partnership to launch a new mobile outstream video product. The Mobile Marquee was designed to meet the needs of entertainment advertisers, specifically motion picture studios and other original content producers. With MovieTickets.com’s highly relevant audience profile behind it, the product is gaining rapid adoption with digital media buyers for major motion picture campaigns.

“With the majority of movie-going audiences now on mobile devices, delivering high quality brand storytelling on mobile is more important than ever, both on our mobile site and in our mobile apps.”

-Joel Cohen, CEO, MovieTickets.com

Having extensive experience in the entertainment vertical, the firms hatched the partnership after working across the table on theatrical release campaigns, where they both saw a clear opportunity for more video storytelling on mobile. Addroid, traditionally a brand partner working alongside media agencies, originally developed the technology behind the Mobile Marquee.

“We looked around the industry and came to the conclusion that to improve the quality of mobile inventory for our buy-side entertainment clients, Addroid would need to bring its technical expertise to publishers directly and create entirely new mobile outstream video formats.”

-Andrew Hunt, Chief Commercial Officer, Addroid

The product is the first of its kind to offer autoplay video across all mobile devices, combined with a high-definition (HD), full-screen movie trailer experience. Major motion picture studios are using the new Mobile Marquee product to drive brand awareness for summer blockbusters.

About MovieTickets.com

MovieTickets.com is a leader in advance movie ticketing with 250 theater chains, representing nearly 29,000 screens worldwide in its group, offering moviegoers a quick and convenient way to purchase tickets online, via mobile devices and at 877-789-MOVIE. The company currently enables remote ticketing for consumers across 21 countries/territories including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean. Fans can stay connected with MovieTickets.com through Facebook (facebook.com/MovieTicketscom), Twitter (twitter.com/movietickets) and YouTube (youtube.com/c/movietickets).

About Addroid

Founded in 2010 and based in Los Angeles, California, Addroid empowers brands to deliver their message with full creative impact across all platforms. Addroid is both an innovative ad unit format and a web-based platform for building and securely serving autoplay video display ad units. The patent-pending technology stack empowers the advertiser, the creative agency or the publisher, to build once without coding, while the software seamlessly manages secure ad delivery across handheld, tablet and desktop platforms.

Addroid’s New Platform: Features and Launch Schedule

We are very excited to announce the launch of a completely new Addroid platform.  We have introduced an all new interface, and a number of new ad unit features.  In October, the beta was launched to a limited group and received great feedback, and now the new platform is open for business!

New Features:

  • New User Interface Enhancements:
    Being an L.A. company, a face-lift was inevitable!  The new Addroid user interface is sleek and user-friendly with intuitive function groupings and a clean, dashboard focused approach.
  • Ad Unit Updates:
    • Mobile optimization – our new mobile ad size is 20% smaller for even higher performance than before, and miles ahead of the competition.
    • Continued HTML5 support – our new ad units continue our full support for HTML5 on modern desktop browsers so you never need to worry about QA or compatibility.
    • “Flicker” free ads – We no longer need to load the backup endframe first, which removes the flicker seen at first ad load on slower connections.
  • Creative Features:
    • One click ad building – build an ad with only a video asset and let Addroid generate JPEGs for you, or build your own just as before.
    • Dual resolve frames with timing – optional new start-frame and traditional end-frame with timing settings allow you greater flexibility and more creative freedom.
    • Centralized file management – all files are now managed through one primary interface which eliminates the secondary uploader for interaction videos and custom buttons.
    • Larger file support – video file uploads up to 100Mb are now supported.
  • Media Features:
    • Placement editing – placements can now be edited in real-time without retagging – hallelujah!
    • Sharable tag download page – tired of digging through email for tags?  Now tags can be shared just like creative demo pages for easy access by partners or media agencies.
  • Enhanced Analytics:
    • Video metric reporting – we are now making video metrics available through the reporting interface including video starts, quartile views, and a click map to enable creative and campaign optimization.
    • New report download format – downloadable reports will be easier to read and parse with a completely new format.
  • VAST Support:
    • We are introducing VAST tag support which enables easy tag creation and file hosting directly from the Addroid interface where all your other video assets live.  Tags can be downloaded and imported into standard video ad servers.

Launch Schedule:

  • Official new platform launch:  October 9, 2015
  • November 30, 2015: Current platform closed to new ad builds
  • December 18, 2015: Current platform closed to active placements (*active ads must be moved to the new platform by this date)
  • December 31, 2015: Current platform reporting access decommissioned (**reports must be downloaded prior to this date)
  • January 1, 2016: Current platform closed.

Top U.S. Advertising Agencies Certified As Addroid Experts

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Addroid is announcing the launch of their Addroid Experts partner program with top creative, media, and integrated agencies. Addroid Experts have a proven track record for executing advanced creative campaigns using Addroid’s innovative video advertising platform. The list of agencies includes TVGla, Doubleday & Cartwright, RED Interactive Agency, and Part IV (see full list of agencies below). Addroid’s technology has been used for global accounts such as Universal Pictures, Lionsgate, and other major entertainment, action sports, and lifestyle brands.

Agencies are aligning with Addroid because Addroid’s technology bridges the gap between Flash and HTML5, while providing powerful creative tools for video display advertising. Addroid’s unique, hyper-compatible, auto-play technology makes it the ideal successor to Flash, and is quickly becoming the new industry standard for display advertising.

“Addroid’s platform allows us to efficiently build video display ads and enables our team to focus on what they like to do best which is executing great creative. They’ve been a great partner to work with and definitely helped make the transition from Flash to HTML more seamless in the campaigns we had with them during that time.”

–Julie Gargan, Executive Creative Director, TVGla

We can offer interviews with Addroid senior executives as well as leadership of the partner agencies, or provide more information on the brands involved in these partnerships.

Addroid Expert Partner Agencies:

About Addroid
Founded in 2010 and based in Los Angeles, California, Addroid empowers brands to deliver their message with full creative impact, across all platforms with better ROI than standard banners or rich media. Addroid is both an innovative ad unit format and a web-based platform for building and serving video display ad units. The patent-pending technology stack delivers full motion video or animations with auto-play, click-for-sound, and extended video on click.

Addroid units live within existing banner footprints (web or mobile) and are trafficked through existing DSPs. The platform empowers the advertiser, the creative agency or the publisher, to build once with no code, while the platform transparently manages the various file types needed to guarantee an optimal experience across handheld, tablet and desktop.

Google Doubles Down On
The Mobile Web

What Project AMP Means To Agencies And Brands

Without much fanfare, Google recently announced Project AMP, or the Accelerated Mobile Pages project. The release of AMP sends a strong signal to the world wide web: THE MOBILE WEB MATTERS. At first this may not be completely obvious as 9 out of 10 mobile interactions start with an app and not a browser, but greater than 60% of mobile web traffic is from in-app browsers. This means a considerable portion of mobile Internet traffic is specifically on the mobile web, which is why Google has stepped in with AMP to help streamline the user experience, amongst other goals.

For web designers and publishers, AMP has some big implications. AMP is an opt-in framework for building optimized mobile web pages, yet Google will prioritize AMP pages in search results, in addition to already rewarding quickly loading pages in its search algorithm. Effectively, this means speed up your mobile web page loads now or be penalized. For news websites, this may not be a big deal, but for advertisers and creative agencies who wish to deliver new and differentiated mobile designs, this means that two sites will need to be built: one AMP compliant (boring) and one standard HTML (cool).

What’s under the hood? By its name it’s obvious that it will help mobile pages load faster, but at what expense? Well, it requires publishers to use Google’s shared library that takes care of the common architectural page items like: images, audio, video, carousel functionality, etc. This library allows only a restricted subset of HTML and bans the use of any publisher side Javascript, and also any 3rd party Javascript. CSS has to be written inline—loaded style sheets are also banned—and all iFrames, forms, and embeds are also forbidden; however, new custom elements are provided for YouTube and Twitter. To clarify that last bit, if you want to add a video to your AMP page you can make it a YouTube video, which will play a YouTube video ad for which Google will receive the lionshare of the ad revenue, or you may “embed” your own video but you now have to use the amp-video component which can only be used for direct HTML5 video file embeds. Translation: you can’t use your own VAST compliant video player to run your own preroll. Sorry! At least your page, or what’s left of it, will [finally] load after all of the Google stuff.

What does this mean for ads? You might be wondering, without 3rd party Javascript will publishers be able to run any ads with an AMP enabled page? Yes! You have a choice of five whole ad networks: A9, AdReactor, AdSense, AdTech and Doubleclick. Once you loop in YouTube you’ll see this isn’t a land grab at all because Google only owns half of the choices. Well, 100% of the choices for video…but you know what I mean. Apologies for the sarcasm but for advertisers, this likely means less choice in which ads can run on the mobile web, and formats will likely be extremely limited as well.

Geez, tell us what you really think Coop. I think a better mobile web experience is long overdue. Like you I’m clicking on links in Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin and can see that most mobile web pages are poorly built and simply don’t utilize lazy-loading—loading content as the users scrolls instead of all upfront in one big download—or modern ad server functionality. Even as a rich media guy I agree that some of these ad experiences need to be rethought.

Now, we all want faster load times and that’s supposedly what’s at the core of AMP. However, keep in mind that it was just two months ago that Google declined to host the library for Greensock which would have dramatically increased the load times of HTML banners. To put that in context, Greensock hosts the Javascript include for jQuery which is used on over 60% of websites around the world. My point is the whole thing feels a little weird to me. Everything in AMP seems to be fast and “best practice” as long as it benefits Google.

Not convinced yet? Have a look at the carousel feature. It’s a really cool way to browse new stories on a specific topic. It feels really app-like but the catch is to get in that carousel you once again need to be part of an elite group of pre-approved publishers. Oh, and that functionality only works on Google Chrome. Seriously. For some reason they couldn’t support the default browser for the iPhone. Really?!

Will AMP solve some of the problems of the mobile web? Sure, but it’s the nuclear option. Google has said it won’t give an advantage to sites that use AMP they do say that they give an advantage to sites that load fast. My suggestion would be for publishers to take this moment to reevaluate their mobile web experience and improve it using all the traditional best practices that are openly available.

Publishers may not have the ability to push back on Google, but advertisers have the money and a desire to present their brands in specific ways. If AMP flattens the earth too much from a creative standpoint, both for ad and site design, then advertisers will take their dollars elsewhere.

Best Practices: Creative Rotation

Optimizing Creative For Entertainment Marketers

Creative rotation and optimization is not a new concept in the digital advertising world.  For as long as I have been building ads (15 years or so), advertisers have been swapping images and videos for a variety of reasons.  But to truly optimize the creative in a digital campaign is no small undertaking.  Thankfully, with existing tools, a smart digital marketer can design and execute on a customer journey, while capitalizing on buzz and shifting consumer perceptions.

From the ad tech perspective, I see both the creative and media side of the equation.  While media agencies would prefer to have endless amounts of creative to optimize, the reality is that high quality creative production is costly and time consuming.  Striking the right balance can be difficult, but when executed correctly the outcomes can be very compelling.

I’ll make the distinction here between creative optimization at the audience level versus at the ad level.  Dynamic content optimization (DCO) systems such as Google’s Product Feed are widely popular and do a great job of swapping location details for car dealers and shoe colors for e-commerce retailers.  These systems operate at the ad level and are largely automated.  Conversely, at the audience level there are decisions that need to be made by humans (smart marketers) based on the intended emotional appeal to a given audience segment.  In this article I am focusing on the audience level.

I’ve taken the insights we have gained at Addroid and listed what I believe to be the best practices for optimizing creative, specifically for entertainment marketers.  While these concepts certainly apply to other categories such as fashion, automotive, video games, and action sports, entertainment deserves special attention as campaigns are relatively short and high impact.

  1. Map The Customer Journey In Advance

    The entertainment industry, specifically theatrical and television, is all about storytelling.  A customer journey should, at a minimum, lead a consumer through a specified set of messages to tell a marketing story. Along the way, marketers should set milestones that track the progress of the consumer and allow for measurement.

    For example, in a typical theatrical campaign the journey map might start with general messaging to drive awareness.  A completed view of a video ad on YouTube would represent the first milestone.  This means the consumer saw the basic messaging and can be moved along to the next stage of the journey.  On the ad tech side, this means the user was cookied and moved into a new audience segment.

    Ideally, and budget permitting, a separate journey map should be designed for each major audience group.  For example, “young males” and “young females” would have separate and distinct maps. Going a layer deeper, “young males in coastal cities” and “young males in Minnesota” could have separate maps as well…you get the picture

  2. Use The Right Tool For The Job

    The more data, the better.  How many times have you heard that said this year?  Like, a million.  But in the context of journey mapping and creative optimization, this can’t be overemphasized.  Most media teams these days use one campaign management tool as the central dashboard for managing campaigns, the most prevalent being Doubleclick Campaign Manager (DCM, formerly know as DFA).  Other peripheral/meta ad servers may tie into the campaign manager, examples being video ad servers or Addroid, and often DSPs are connected as well.

    A campaign manager is primarily a tool to maintain order in a large and chaotic campaign, but with the advent of Data Management Platforms (DMPs), these campaign tools now link to data sources that empower true optimization.  For example, DCM uses Floodlight Tags that are placed on web pages to track milestones as discussed earlier.  When these tags fire, the internal DMP catalogs user behavior and associated targeting information.  The platform can be configured to optimize creative based on what messaging performs the best, and consumers can be moved along the journey map towards the success metrics.

    The moral of the story is that without having full visibility into the data and optimization tools, marketers are not equipped to make informed decisions about how to optimize and rotate creative effectively.

  3. Define Success Metrics And Attribution Paths

    “OK Matt, so now I have a tool shed full of power tools, what next?”

    Now that you have created a journey map and selected the right tools for the job, it’s time to define what success means. In the digital marketing world, success is typically defined by an action the consumer takes, but without attributing the pathway that led to success, there is no way to measure and shift resources to the most effective paths.  Thus success metrics and attribution must go hand-in-hand in order to create a positive feedback loop to do better marketing.

    The best success metrics are simple: watch a video, buy a ticket, or share a piece of content.  Where marketers get into trouble is when they try to define every single fine point along the way.  For example, if a user sees a sponsored post on a publisher’s site, then eventually buys a movie ticket on their mobile phone, that equates to success.  The success metric is a ticket sale, and the publisher is the attribution path.  Smart marketers can certainly get more granular than this, but the rule of thumb is to get to success in three big steps.  Just make sure to embed your tracking along the way so you can keep the feedback loop tight.

    Attribution used to be really tough to measure, but now there are some great tools that allow for cross-platform attribution.  With the right technology partners, consumers who view a piece of content on their desktop can be linked to mobile usage, and vice-versa, so if a ticket is purchased on a phone a few weeks after a desktop ad is viewed, attribution can be linked back to the initial desktop pathway.

  4. Test, Iterate And Repeat

    The final step, and most important, is to experiment.  Every campaign is different, and every audience is different.  The strategy and tactics that worked on past campaigns may not necessarily translate to future campaigns, so a smart marketer is always testing, improving, and trying again.  With respect to creative rotation and optimization, cloud-based creative platforms such as Addroid make it easy to change creative assets in real-time. If a certain video, image or piece of content is not performing well with a given audience segment, a new experiment can be setup and run on the fly.  The relatively low cost of display advertising is a great way to test messaging with various groups, and in a matter of days the optimal messaging can be dialed in for the remainder of the campaign.

  5. Common Mistakes To Avoid

    In my experience I’ve also seen some common mistakes made when it comes to creative optimization and rotation.  I have listed the ones below that I see most often and can be easily avoided:

    1. Random Rotation:  rotating creative just for the sake of rotating requires more work for the creative and media agencies, and without proper measurement and attribution there is no real benefit.  Just because a consumer sees multiple versions of your creative, doesn’t mean that the creative resonates with that particular audience segment.  Delivering one message that hits home is better than delivering multiple messages that don’t.

    2. Trading Reach For Frequency: a cornerstone of advertising is that brand recall and purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by frequency.  By spreading your impressions too thin and not achieving enough frequency for a given audience segment, your milestones will be harder to reach and thus attributing success to the creative that works the best will be impossible.  The rule of thumb is to ensure you reach a consumer with 5-10 impressions before that consumer takes any measurable action.  It’s better to focus on fewer segments that can be reached with sufficient impressions.

    3. Ignoring The Data: marketers tend to be an opinionated group, and rightfully so.  Trusting one’s instincts is a valuable tool, yet with data tools a smart marketer now has many ways to validate if instinct proves true.  Just because an advertiser or creative agency likes one set of messaging better than another, does not mean the audience segment does too.  Keeping an open mind and listening to what the data shows about creative choices will lead to better campaign outcomes and you’ll gain new insights along the way.

The Dreamweaver Hangover

How Hand-Coding Became The Unnecessary Ad Standard

Everybody likes to hum along to the Gary Wright song Dreamweaver, with its blissful melody and tone…

“Driver take away my worries of today

and leave tomorrow behind”

Such bliss was also the promise of Adobe’s Dreamweaver application, which takes the worries away from creators and automatically writes HTML code for web designs.  Such was the promise anyway, and in Adobe’s defense, Dreamweaver was way ahead of its time and can be useful for making simple sites and quick comps.  But for anyone who writes HTML code by hand, you know that under the curtain it gets messy, and the code is bulky and definitely not elegant.

In the creative agency world, this bulky code led to a hangover that has lasted for years, and extends to other What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) authoring tools as well.  Creatives have opted mainly to stick with image-based tools such as Photoshop for design, and hand-coding remains the standard for implementation.

I think the underlying thesis for WYSIWYG is a good one…let the software deal with the coding and free the creators to focus on the creative.  Clients don’t really care how many lines of code are used, or frankly what technology is leveraged altogether.  Clients do care about their brand and that the consumer has an outstanding experience when their message is delivered.  So why then does the digital advertising world build HTML ads by hand?

“Ooh dream weaver, I believe we can

reach the morning light”

WYSIWYG’s were so bad back in the day, that they created the common belief they were strictly to be used by amateurs. The culture of developers worships those who code each line by hand, as anything less would indicate you’re some kind of hack. As a veteran designer/developer myself, I believe there’s no better way to create a really nice custom rich media ad unit than to write some, or all, of the code yourself. However, the majority of ad units in a typical campaign are considered “standard” and thus have limited functionality. If the original objection to not hand-code was ultimately about stability, I think that a mature and refactored WYSIWYG is great option, especially considering the reduced budgets and timelines that agencies face today. If the unit is bulletproof from a code point of view, and looks incredible, isn’t that all your client really cares about?

Said differently, clients care about outcomes, and creative drives metrics. These two ideas are the bedrock of digital advertising.  For agencies, staying ahead of the technology curve has distinct advantages. I’m hearing about a lot of agencies who are still suffering from the transition away from Flash. Of course those who were more prepared are thriving in the new HTML ad world. Unfortunately the most painful outcome for agencies with the Flash transition has been that the actual creative has suffered — with all of the scrambling around to learn how to code, the creative quality for many teams (and clients) has diminished, which is sadly the fundamental core value of any creative agency regardless of the technology du jour.

“Cross the highways of fantasy, help me

to forget today’s pain”

Taking a step back from this situation and comparing to the world of websites, WordPress is a good example of a platform which minimizes the need for coding and provides a framework in which average people can build upon.  WordPress is not a WYSIWYG tool like Wix, Squarespace or other drag-and-drop website builders, the trade-off being a basic WordPress site looks like a page from Wikipedia.  But if you know how to use the platform, a WordPress site can be upgraded with professionally designed and developed themes while the robust content management platform remains attached. Because people have recognized the value of a standard code base and appreciated the ease of deployment, WordPress now powers over 24% of the web*.

As HTML ads are like little websites, so it seems the same platform approach can apply.  Instead of absorbing the cost of ground-up development, agencies can (and should) focus on innovative and high quality creative by leveraging all the available frameworks at their disposal. Plenty of ad platforms exist (includingAddroid) that provide stable underlying technology and frameworks for creative execution, without the need for hand-coding.  Furthermore, with the proliferation of data-driven media buying, the need for better and higher quantities of creative is growing.  Platforms enable easy duplication, copying and swapping of media, and those who remain adamant about creating ads by hand will simply miss out on the efficiencies that today’s market demands.

* From WordPress.com

A Mobile-First Banner Spec

After years of consideration, the IAB is finally updating the banner specs! Hooray! All of the Flash specs will be deprecated and replaced with HTML-based recommendations that will more accurately reflect the current landscape. File sizes will increase and best practices will be documented in just a few weeks.

At a glance, the familiar 40k file size limitation will increase to 200k for standard HTML units and in-banner video ads are allowed an additional 1.1 megabyte of video, keeping the traditional 15 second duration.

I’m currently participating in the IAB committee charged with designing the new spec, and while the guidelines for image based ad units are extremely important, the in-banner spec is of most interest to me as Addroid is primarily an in-banner video product. The current in-banner spec for a Flash based unit can be found on the IAB’s website, but I thought I’d publish here my personal opinion of how the spec could be modified to work in a mobile-first world.

I’m looking forward to your thoughts and feedback, and would be happy to share them with the committee.

Issue #1: Streaming vs. File Loaded (Progressive Download)

The current Flash spec is bisected into two categories: Streaming and File Loaded. As we transition into HTML based units a quick bit of research uncovers that streaming video is something that only works on iOS via Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and the very most recent version of Android 5.0. Additionally, these video streams will only play in the device’s native player thus, in-banner with streaming video is actually not possible.

The real question is, In 2015 do we even need streaming video for a video banner? In this day and age, streaming video is really more of an appropriate solution for Netflix or Hulu—i.e. long form video. With 90% of people having a minimum of a 5 Mbps connection on their mobile device and 80% having a 10 Mbps or more connection, a relatively small 300 Kb to 1 Mb file will download in about 1 second—less time than it would take to negotiate a streaming session with the device. To add some perspective, keep in mind the average Vine video is 600 Kb and the average Instagram video is over one megabyte. Both of these, along with countless SnapChat videos, are progressively downloaded and not streamed.

The only consideration for a best practice to properly compress a H.264 video is to make sure that the “Fast Start” option is selected during compression. This puts the meta data in the head of the file as opposed to the tail; enabling the browser to calculate a good time to start the file playback before the entire video file is loaded. “Fast Start” enables faster video playback. As an example, on YouTube the progress bar under the playback position is a visual indicator of this process in action.

My thoughts: All video specs should be listed as progressive downloads.

Issue #2: Polite Loads

Polite loads were something that was relatively simple to execute in a Flash environment however in HTML they are generally accomplished with some type of code installed by the publisher: i.e. a third party SDK or custom code hosted on the site. Because of the proprietary nature of HTML polite loads, the concept of having an initial load followed by a subsequent payload isn’t going to work as a broad standard. The passive polite load that I’m speaking to is not to be confused with files loaded after user interaction—something that is quite simple in HTML.

My thoughts: Make the file size recommendations in one bucket and not bifurcated into initial and polite loads.

Issue #3: Max Video Lengths

After some extensive A/B testing at Addroid we came to the conclusion that in-banner ads vs. static ads showed a lift in interaction/CTR;  however, 15 second video banners vs 30 second video banners showed no measurable performance difference. Seeing that this is an autoplay spec, a shorter duration means faster loads and better performance.

My thoughts: Consider scaling back the recommendation of a 30 second duration to a 15 second maximum for initial videos (prior to interaction).

Issue #4: Minimum Required Controls

I’m just gonna say it, you don’t need any controls.

When was the last time you saw a 40K Flash banner with a play/pause button? My point is that video is simply the animation medium. With in-banner you are replacing the idea of clipping out images of a product and animating them around in a 2D space with full motion video. Of course the audio is always user initiated and the duration will be 15 seconds like any other banner.

My thoughts: Video controls should not be required just as they are not required for a 40K standard banner today, nor any HTML5 standard banner in the future.