The future of advertisements and ad technology is an ever-growing discussion, but what often gets lost in the conversation is the dynamic of user experience. In the wake of this ad-blocking technology has grown in popularity, a realisation that served as the impetus for IAB’s decision to pioneer the LEAN Ads program. In October 2015, IAB announced the introduction of Light, Encrypted, Ad-choice supported, Non-invasive ads. These proposed measures, also known as LEAN, promise to usher in the next wave of technical standards for the global digital advertising industry.
In many ways, LEAN’s greatest strength is its diversity. On their LEAN press release, IAB states:
“…standards should be created by non-profit standards-setting bodies, with many diverse voices providing input.”
An assembly of perspectives ensures not only that the standards are approved from all corners of the industry, but also that they succeed in optimising user experience in advertising. In accordance with their principles of diversity and choice, the LEAN standard does not seek to supplant current advertising norms; they merely offer an alternative to the existing standards. This provides greater variety for marketers, content providers, and consumers to influence the future of advertising.
One of the most palpable alternatives that LEAN offers is the presentation of relative ratio ads. Fixed pixel-based ads are the norm in all header bidding installations today. For example, when Header Tag makes a bid request, it asks for ads with certain height and width specifications (ex: 970×250). In terms of size, these are not LEAN ads. LEAN operates on a non-pixel based ad aspect ratio, for example framing half page (50% x 100%) or even full-screen interstitial ads.
As an agile platform, the header of a web page has the capability of accommodating LEAN advertisements with minimal difficulty, however, the impediment lies with the ad-buying ecosystem as a cohesive unit. As it stands, both the buy-side and the sell-side are cognisant of restrictions on data pixels and their impact, and creatives are generated according to a fixed height and width measurement. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to adopting LEAN ads is ad servers like DFP, which requires fixed pixel units. On DFP, there is no way to account for percentages.
Now is the time to go LEAN
The graph below provided by IAB depicts aspect ratios versus benchmark screen resolutions. IAB proposes that this shift to aspect-ratio based ads would create more responsive ads less restricted to the file size for ads as well as the opportunity for creatives to make a single ad that can run cross-platform. If the ad server finds a way to account for relative ratio ads, then LEAN ads have the potential to change the advertising landscape.
LEAN tackles ad load time, encryption, choice, skippability, and non-blocking scripts. While encryption focuses primarily on attaining HTTPS requests from the entire supply chain, in regards to ad load time LEAN requires regular evaluation of user-experienced latency when exploring content. This is a more time-consuming task since the parameters of a “normal” user have yet to be established. Determining this will require examining diversity amongst usage and demographics, and is likely to be transient and variable. However, the load times, IAB asserts, should be assessed by comparing user tolerance versus negative user experience. The aim of this specific endeavour is to mitigate excessive data calls from ad units and identify consumer thresholds to incorporate into a LEAN scoring system. Key metrics would be the total number of HTTP requests and total bandwidth utilisation of the ad.
For publishers, these and many other guidelines imply the opportunity for providing richer advertising experiences. Today ad-blocking technology limitations in OpenRTB messaging and ad server configuration means multiple hurdles remain in the way of widespread adoption of the LEAN standards. We look forward to continuing our collaboration within the advertising technology community and Tech Lab at IAB to overcome these challenges.