Time For a Diet — “Skinny” Ads and Fast Publishers

By Frank Sinton, CEO of Beachfront

Faced with impatient mobile users reading to hit the home button at any time (or even worse, install an ad blocker), publishers are looking at how they can create “skinny” ad bundles, carving down as much as possible the bandwidth load — and especially time time-to-content — being sent to a viewer. This is a smart approach and one I hope we see a lot more of going forward.

Typically, slimming down the ad delivery means trimming some of the extra interactive bits that can layer on more information at the expense of efficiently delivering content and ads.

Some people blame publishers and ad-tech agencies for trying to grab as much revenue as possible. Others blame ad agencies and brands for larding ads with lots of trackers and other interactive capabilities, then delivering the package at the last minute, so the publisher can’t push back.

With concerns about viewability, image-building and attracting a bigger share of TV ad dollars, the industry collectively has doubled down on technologies that serve understandable if not always sustainable goals. One constituency or another wants ads that build brand image, are always on view, and can track viewers across the universe. Each of those goals is worthy in itself, but together can conspire to make the content-viewing experience slow & quite painfully awful.

That serves no one, beginning with the most important constituency of all, the viewers.

There’s plenty of blame to share in this case, and plenty of reason to figure out how we can do things better, because creating bad mobile-content experiences, substantially driven by bad mobile-advertising experiences, will only fuel ad blocker adoption and undercut the business models of companies on all sides of the mobile content ecosystem.

As AOL’s president of publisher platforms, Tim Mahlman, is quoted saying, “There has to be a common ground. Can we do killer ads not at the cost of turning people away?”

Indeed. And there are strategies we can adopt:

  • Mobile-first. So overused, yet so needed today. There are too many ad tech companies that started out as desktop and tried to pivot to mobile, or cross-screen — yet done a poor job optimizing the experience for speed. Time to move to a mobile-first ad tech stack.
  • Speed is the future. How do you stay “thin” in the future, as expectations and technologies continue to rise? By being fast. Carve it down. Load it quickly. Move on. Servers are more powerful than ever — where servers can do targeting, mediation, and ad stitching — we need to start doing that and relying less on the client-side VPAID mediation of the Desktop past.
  • Clean up your own backyard. Before publishers complain too much about fat ads, what have they done to tighten their own code base where the number of JavaScript file calls has often hit the triple digits? Often, a focused effort here can pay big dividends throughout a site.
  • Go light. Forbes is experimenting with offering ad-blocker users an “ad light” experience that provides some ads but in a more nimble form and without interstitials.
  • Create incentives. Some ad-tech companies and publishers are billing advertisers when they want to add a lot of trackers or similar fattening tech.
  • The power of shame. The Journal mentions creating a standard for site latency, basically figuring how slow an average site should go. Those advertisers who deviate beyond that agreed-upon time would be called out more publicly, in an effort to shame bandwidth hogs.
  • Core it out. Build the tracker into core technology, instead of adding unique tags to pixels that ensure view-ability and everything else.
  • More collaboration, early. Ideally, the publisher, brand, agency and ad-tech firms work together generate creative offerings that are lean and mean. Talking sooner about the need for speed can help ensure creative that delivers a message fast.

These are all great approaches. But we also shouldn’t forget the opportunities presented for smarter, just-skinny-enough advertising made possible with standards such as VAST 4.0, the just-finalized new video ad-serving technology standards from IAB. Among other capabilities, VAST 4.0 divides the core creative and the interactive piece, then sends the enhanced technologies only to those devices and connections that can handle it.

It is a speed-first, mobile-first world. Ad tech and the rest of the advertising industry needs to quickly adopt speed improvements, using technology as the enabler, continue to create new standards like VAST 4.0, and move forward on some of the approaches I suggested above in order to create valuable pathways to a faster, better experience for users that will pay dividends for everyone.