At Internet Week in New York, the current state of display advertising is a popular topic. A common refrain is that display advertising has yet to reach its potential. But at IAB Innovation Days, Robert Bowman took at shot at an initiative that his host has played a large part in achieving: ad standardization.
According to MLB.com's CEO, standardization is a big reason display advertising is flailing.
Bowman didn't pull any punches during his keynote on the future of digital and where Major League Baseball is looking to grow. As he put it:
"The notion that on a website the ad size has to be standardized is absurd."
Meanwhile, The Interactive Advertising Bureau — the event host — has played a big role in advocating for standardization online. The trade organization has fought hard to implement standards online, in video and in mobile. For instance, the IAB is currently working on a standard for tablet advertising. But Bowman argues that standardization hasn't done what it set out to. He says:
"Interactive media is a fraction of where it should be."
IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg pointed out that it is actually the IAB's members who decide on their standardized ad formats. But Bowman wasn't buying it:
"Who are your members? Nice Try."
Rothenberg noted that he did not see the need for standardization in the early days of the IAB. He asked the IAB's founding chairman Rich Lefurgy what purpose his trade association would serve. The answer he got is exactly Bowman's current problem with internet advertising:
"We need standards."
Rothenberg wasn't convinced at the time. He said:
"If TV folks could get away from the 30 second spot, I'm sure they would."
But Lefurgy won him over with the age old argument of scale. For brands that want to purchase ads across different properties in a large buy, standardization makes that easier. Bowman disagrees:
"[People] say that. Here's the problem. We didn't scale."
He argues that digital advertising is one third of the way to where it should be. MLB.com has spent a decade selling display ads, and they still have a long way to go.
"I think we're living proof it didn't scale," says Bowman.
He thinks that online, customized ad purchases will make a big the difference.
"If we were able to use different ad sizes, I think we will scale. And I think TV is going to have to to compete. Fast forward 10 years, TV's going to get a lot more innovation with ad formats."
Bowman believes that moving and changing ads to fit different contexts will find smaller publishers much more success online. The problem for brands like MLB is that they have been letting the leaders in online advertising dictate the terms of how their ads are sold.
"It's our job as content publishers to go to agencies and say, this really works," he says. "Every advertiser might want a slightly different experience."
According to Bowman, standardized ad formats benefit large portal sites and publications that are trusted brands.
He argues that the MLB is in a slightly different place.
"It's our job as content publishers to go to agencies and say, this really works."
Bowman has a challenge for brands and marketers going forward:
"Let's let creativity dictate what works."
Bowman argues that each brand online has to figure out the right way to provide advertising to its users.
"MLB.com is a different brand than MLB. We have to be a different brand. Some days we get it right, somedays we get it wrong, some days the damn things are rained out."