Make Ads LEAN? How About We FLATTEN Them?

“We messed up.” – The Interactive Advertising Bureau.

“We know.” – Everybody Else.

There’s probably a really good book to be written about how the digital ad industry got to this point, where it cluttered up digital media so badly that the industry requires a “Hoarders”-style intervention.


It’s a good sign that the IAB has picked up on the issue and wants to do something about it, but I have a few questions:

  • Why did the IAB wait for a full-scale consumer revolt before doing something about it?

  • Why is a mea culpa of this magnitude being delivered by a senior-level VP and not IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg?

  • Why did the IAB recommend these LEAN principles?

Spending time on #1 and #2 would be counterproductive.  Let’s concentrate on #3, shall we?

LEAN stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad Choices Support and Non-invasive/Non-disruptive.  They’re the principles that are supposed to guide the next phases of ad standards.  They’re a good start, but in my humble opinion, they simply don’t go far enough.

I’d like to take those guidelines a few steps further with an acronym of my own: FLATTEN

“F” stands for “Fewer.”  It’s long been my belief that digital advertising has an unlimited supply problem that devalues digital advertising.  After all, demand has little ability to sustain pricing when we can simply create more ad slots on a page at will.  We need ad environments with fewer ads – ideally, one per page.

“L” still stands for “Light.”  Yes, it is important that we lighten the load when it comes to ad content.  Consumers do not want to wait for bloated ads to load before they can see content.  Nor do they want to see the average size of web pages and the average number of loaded objects continue to increase drastically.

“A” still stands for “Ad Choice Supported.”  If for no other reason than to show that the ad industry attempted self-regulation, it’s important to continue to build this in to ongoing ad standards.  More on how we’ll take it to the next step in our next acronym letter.

“T” stands for “Tag-limited.”  Folks, we have too many pixel tags firing willy-nilly upon page loads.  They hold up content, they cause browsers to crash, and they make consumers highly suspicious.  We need to trim tags down to essential analytics and adserver tags, while improving the current situation – which is the one where seemingly everybody on the LUMAscape gets to fire a tag at every page load.

“T” also stands for “Trusted.”  I harbor no illusions of getting consumers to turn on a dime and suddenly trust digital ads.  No, the kind of trust I’m talking about is trust on the part of the advertiser and agency that ads won’t be rendered in some buried iframe in a deep, dark corner of the web somewhere.  And by “trust,” I mean that we need to insist on anti-fraud and pro-viewability solutions, and make them industry-standard.

“E” continues to stand for “Encrypted.”  Yes, it’s important that we enable HTTPS for ads, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we need to be assured ads are being delivered through a secure connection.

“N” continues to stand for “Non-invasive/Non-disruptive,” although we should acknowledge that this might as well stand for “Native” with the way the IAB wrote it initially.  We need to keep ads from holding up or covering up content, but we also need to stop the incessant begging for e-mail addresses and social media likes that occurs whenever a consumer arrives at a web page through the side door.

If we’re going to clean up our act, let’s not simply deal with only the most common consumer objections about digital ads.  Let’s have fewer of them, so that demand can support higher prices for content creators that can support content operations.  Let’s declutter the tags, too.  And let’s solve the fraud and viewability problems at the same time.

Think of what could happen if we could get the comScore 500 on board with these major points.  That’s the good news – we don’t need to get buy-in from the long tail initially.  Just lead the way with IAB member organizations and the long tail will follow the dollar.

Tom Hespos is the Founder and Chief Media Officer of Underscore Marketing, an integrated media agency focusing on health and healthy brands.