Back in June as I wrote about obstacles with VPAID standardizations and commented briefly on LEAN ad concepts and why they were important to RhythmOne, our clients and our publishers.  This month as we are all knee deep in Q4 budgets and 2018 planning, we wanted to circle back and explore deeper into LEAN concepts and why we as a company have focused so much on adhering to these principals whenever possible.

So, what are LEAN ads anyway?
LEAN stands for “Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, and Non-invasive ads.”  A mouthful for sure, but the standard was born out of conversations between the IAB and partners to address multiple industry issues, including:

  • Lost Publisher Revenue: ad blocking costing publishers over $22B dollars today and expected to rise to $27B by 2020.
  • Quality Supply Blocking: ad blockers blocking large percentages of potentially available inventory.
  • Transparency and Security: insecure ads still being served worldwide.
  • Poor User Experience:  a lack of accountability for overly intrusive and bloated ads that bog down sites.
  • Privacy Concerns: no standards for balancing tracking vs. its usefulness.

In short, there was (and still is) a widespread and recognized need to improve the digital advertising impact on publishers and experience for consumers – and LEAN ads are a positive step towards that goal.

C’mon, does LEAN really matter?
Yes. The fact is we live in a world where content consumers have been forced to choose between ad blockers and bloated ads that diminish their browsing experience.  Looking back, it seems almost unfathomable that we as an industry started down this path. In a digital world where standards were minimally set for creative things got messy; it’s as simple as that.  LEAN ads are an attempt to build upon the existing minimal standards to ad creative with the aim of building a better experience for both publisher and consumers alike.  Primary among the goals of LEAN is to neutralize bloated ads that have little regard or respect towards bandwidth usage and user tracking.  These enhanced standards give publishers an increased level of trust that ad supported revenue will not damage their brand, consumers a better content experience, and advertisers a better framework to operate in without losing potential supply.

Ok so, what can we expect from LEANer ads?
Once the adoption rate is widespread we can expect to see:

  • Reduced Ad Sizes –  In turn this would reduce bandwidth usage by consumers.  While using iframes in ads have helped by loading concurrently with a publisher’s site, in the end a content consumer still must download the ad – even if it loads after the publisher’s page.  In the age of expensive mobile data plans, this is important to look at.  It is a cost to the consumer that we have an obligation to reduce as much as possible.
  • Reduced/Standardized Tracking – Privacy is always on the forefront of consumer’s minds and this create and aura of transparency between the advertiser and the consumer, which in turn creates trust.  Reduced tracking calls will further reduce the bandwidth needed for ad delivery, and standardized tracking will give the consumer a sense of familiarity on what information is being shared instead of always being in the dark and uninformed.  As always consumers can opt out easily if they don’t want to participate at any level.
  • Security – Pushing all industry participants towards fully secure ad calls will help eliminate security hole and other network flaws that leave consumers susceptible to nasty dealings such as malware.
  • Ad Blockers – While arguments exist on both sides towards the actual intentions of ad blocking companies, it is safe to say that creating a safe environment where 3rd party add-ons like ad blockers are not needed in the first place is ideal.  In short, the digital advertising industry broke the bond of trust that existed with publishers and consumers; it’s up to us to fix it.  Having an internet where a consumer can effectively opt out of being tracked while supporting the revenue needs of their favorite publishers is where we need to be.  Low bandwidth, non-invasive advertising that has fully transparent opt out procedures would increase uninstall rate of ad blockers, putting that blocked revenue back into the publisher’s hand to put towards creating more great content.  In addition, the more supply that isn’t being blocked by ad blockers, the more supply our clients have access to, and the more dollars they move to digital space.

That all sounds good, but what exactly is RhythmOne doing about this?
First, we have been a working partner with the IAB for the last 10 years.  We believe in their mission and the need for standards for digital advertising that make sense for both our clients AND our publishers.  It is an ecosystem that must be balanced, and LEAN specifications are already proving they’re up to the task.

Inside our organization, the adherence of LEAN specifications largely falls into the laps of our Creative Studio team.  The Creative Studio works with clients from ideation all the way to tag delivery, a process that includes the actual build of a creative ad unit.  A majority of our creative builds are developed using our Creative Management Platform which has LEAN standards and specifications built in.  In cases where our team executes on a custom creative, they are fully trained in these specifications which are built into the design of a unit even before the mock stage.  They are masters at setting reasonable expectations with clients and coming up with a unique creative design that doesn’t require them to sacrifice their vision for a good consumer experience.

Some of the many LEAN principles we adhere to when possible:

  • Utilization of GZIP compression for increased savings on bandwidth
  • Responsible differentiation between initial and an initiated sub-load. 
  • Initial ad loads limitations (including all JS libraries)
    • 50kb for smaller banners
    • 100-150kb for larger banners
    • 200-350kb for full page ads depending on screen size
    • 250kb for 300×600 and Billboard ads

  • Sub-Load limitations (including all JS libraries)
    • 100kb for smaller banners
    • 200-300kb for larger banners
    • 400-700kb for full page ads depending on screen size
    • 500kb for 300×600 and Billboard ads

  • Limitation of ten (10) file requests during initial load
  • Sub-Loads must be user initiated
  • No ad should use more than 30% CPU Load
  • Ad content is clearly distinguishable from Publisher content
  • Audio is always muted to start and must be user initiated (not on rollover)
  • Inclusion of IBA (Interest Based Advertising) to allow consumer control over behaviorally targeted ads
  • Utilization of shared libraries when possible (JQuery, Web Fonts, etc.)
  • Asynchronous JavaScript load inside an iframe when possible
  • Limit animation to 15 seconds and pushed to sub-load when possible
  • Expanding ads must be user initiated and not expand on Hover or Rollover
  • No Flashing, High Contrast, Bright Colored ads

By following these specifications, and common-sense practices before that, we have been able to decrease the size of our ads by over 80% in the last three years with continual improvements towards latency.

In Summary
LEAN specifications are here to stay and are most welcome here at RhythmOne.  They represent an effort by our industry to take a solid step forward in improving client/publisher relationships.  At the same time, our industry is acknowledging accountability for the current Ad Blocking situation which is the first step in regaining trust with the publisher base and just as importantly, the larger general populace.