[an icon of a pair of binoculars] POVs

The IAB's Rising Stars Ad Units

March 2011 Download

360i Point of View on The Next Generation of Display Advertising


According to eMarketer and the IAB, marketers are spending only 5% to 7% of their measured media budgets on online display. Although most brand advertisers have been slow to shift dollars, display advertising isn’t dying. In fact, online display spending is projected to grow faster than overall online spending between 2011 and 2014. Even with these increases, growth isn’t nearly what it could be if display advertising were more enticing.

In an effort to fuel online creativity and move more brand marketing dollars online, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) announced its “Rising Stars” competition last fall to develop new ad formats that would enhance the list of current IAB standard units.

Judged by a cross-disciplinary group of agency creative directors (including 360i), media executives, and ad operations specialists, entries were sought from all corners of the marketing community including creatives, technologists, publishers and marketers. A pool of 36 innovative entries were submitted from more than two dozen companies and evaluated based on:

  • Branding- How well the ad format provides a canvas for brand creativity
  • User Experience- How the ad format positively impacts user experience
  • Functionality- How the ad format takes advantage of online user behaviors and technologies
  • Page Integration- How the ad format enhances the relationship between the ad and publisher page layout
  • Adoption- How easily the ad format can be widely adopted by publishers

Yesterday, the IAB announced the winners – and simultaneously removed many of its less popular ad units. Now, 11 of the 18 standard sizes that weren’t commonly used have been retired, leaving seven core standard units that currently represent 80% of total ad impressions. Six new Rising Stars ad formats have been added to this roster, as follows:

Winner New IAB Name
Microsoft Interactive Filmstrip IAB Filmstrip
AOL Project Devil IAB Portrait
Unicast Sidekick IAB Sidekick
Pictela Pushdown IAB Pushdown
Google/YouTube Masthead IAB Billboard
Genex Slider (produced by Unicast & Mediamind) IAB Slider

While many of the Rising Stars are available today, the IAB is employing a 90-day build-out period after which all units will be available. The new formats will begin a trial period through the remainder of 2011 at which time the IAB will formally add some or all of them as permanent standards based on adoption and feedback.

IAB Filmstrip

300x600 pixels visible in segments, totaling 300x3000 pixels of content

This interactive unit invites consumers to explore five segments of content by scrolling, clicking or hovering over the display ad. Publishers can map the segments to a typical purchase funnel (as defined in its style guide as awareness, interest, desire, intent and loyalty), sequencing the experience based on page location or as the consumer browses through a website.

Opportunity for Marketers:
The Filmstrip enables marketers to tell a brand story that builds as consumers engage with the ad and as they navigate through the website on which the unit appears.

IAB Portrait

300x1050 or 400x1200 pixels

Based on the AOL “Project Devil” display ad, this large unit has been designed to run vertically adjacent to page content. The unit is highly standardized with rigid specifications for logo placement and content modules within the ad’s real estate. The modules are specified from top to bottom as follows:

  • Header area for logo & copy
  • Large module, which can include a photo gallery, video, static image & 360-degree views – among other specific options
  • Two smaller modules for “ad apps” including video, couponing, mapping, polling/quizzes, and Facebook & Twitter feeds
  • Footer for link copy

(For more on the Portrait, see 360i’s previous blog post about AOL’s Project Devil.)

Opportunity for Marketers:
This plug-and-play unit offers marketers an easy template and tools to develop interactive content-driven display ads. It also allows for a new way to prioritize a branded experience within the unit, starting with strong visuals at the top and offering additional branded and transactional content at the bottom.

IAB Sidekick

In-page (pre-expansion): 300x250 pixels (additionally IAB 300x600 and IAB Billboard), expanded: 850x700 pixels

This unit starts off as a more typical display ad with an invite for consumers to click and expand. As it widens, the aptly-named Sidekick “kicks” the page content horizontally to the left revealing a large interactive ad in the right gutter. Not only does the page content remain visible and fully interactive – upon closing, the ad collapses and the page content is pushed back to the right.

Opportunity for Marketers:
The Sidekick offers the rich content of a small microsite or landing page all within the ad unit. As the web page shifts to the right, consumer focus is set squarely on the content. Like typical rich media units, the ad offers increased file size with each user interaction allowing marketers to deliver a deeper experience to those consumers who want it. Additionally, users may be more willing to interact with the unit since it offers a seemingly more polite interruption than typical page takeovers.

IAB Pushdown

In-page (pre-expansion): 970x90 pixels, expanded: 970x415 pixels

This unit starts off as a more classic strip ad, although wider to fit current standard 970-wide page widths. Upon rollover, the ad pushes page content downward to reveal a larger unit with standard areas for an image or video thumbnails, as well as sharing and enlarge-to-full-screen functionality. Since this unit pushes down the page content rather than expanding over it, it offers a less intrusive albeit more typical expandable ad.

Opportunity for Marketers:
The Pushdown enables marketers to host a variety of multimedia content within the ad, employing standardized interactions for selecting and viewing video, audio and images – as well as tools for social sharing. The ability to launch the content full screen allows marketers to immerse consumers fully in the multimedia content.

IAB Billboard

970x250 pixels

This ad offers a large marquee across the entire page that is well-suited for video and other interactive content. Submitted by Google and YouTube, the Billboard differentiates itself as the only ad unit that formally invites open-source HTML5 in addition to typical Flash formats. Users can close the unit, which causes the ad to disappear as page content rises to fill the void. A “show ad” link remains for consumers who wish to re-expand the ad. In addition, the unit can be coupled with the Sidekick so that on-click the page shifts to the left – revealing larger, expanded content in the right gutter.

Opportunity for Marketers:
The Billboard essentially offers a large, prominently placed blank canvas allowing marketers to tell its brand story however they want – including re-purposing website content and functionality built in HTML5.

IAB Slider

Pre-expansion: 950x90 pixels, expanded: 950x550

This floating display unit lives on top of the web page, appearing as if it’s anchored to the bottom of the web browser. The persistent unit stays in-view as consumers scroll down the page, enabling marketers to ensure more consumers see its full animation. The ad invites users to click, rollover or “slide” the unit to the left (in a nod to iPhone/iPad’s touch-screen carousel experience) revealing a large interactive ad in the right gutter – similar to the Sidekick but even larger – which replaces the publisher page content. The slider bar remains to enable retraction. Clicking on the close button or back arrow will slide content back to the right bringing the publisher content back to full view.

Opportunity for Marketers:
Marketers will be able to communicate a complete story from beginning to end without concern that consumers only see one frame before scrolling down the page. On expansion, the anchored slider bar could be used as a toolbar for navigating the larger slider content area.


The new IAB Rising Stars ad formats signal a first step in the evolution of display advertising. What makes these units so unique?

  • Size. Most of the ads are larger than current standard units.
  • Interactivity. Most of the formats have standardized rich media expansion and have created new ways for consumers to engage – including less intrusive approaches to ad expansion.
  • Placement. Some of the units offer prominent placement inside and outside of a typical web page.
  • Data Integration. One unit, the IAB Portrait, provides a standardized API for integrating data-like photo and video galleries, 3-D rotation and zooming, Facebook and Twitter feeds and store-locator mapping.

To further spur adoption by brand marketers, some key opportunities to evolve the units during the trial period still exist. For example, the industry should consider:

  • Fully standardizing sizing so units become more plug-and-play. If all of the new units standardized specific dimensions and file sizes where possible, then marketers could more easily repurpose creative for different placements. For instance, the landscape units have different widths – the IAB Slider is 950 pixels wide, while the IAB Billboard and IAB Pushdown are 970 pixels wide. In addition, the expanded IAB Sidekick employs both different heights and widths (850x700), versus the expanded IAB Slider (950x550).
  • Embracing open standards and proprietary formats. Most units only support Flash and not HTML5. HTML5 ad units are poised to grow in coming months and years.
  • Expanding third-party measurement options. Some units do not allow third-party measurement, which will prove important to brand marketers seeking richer engagement metrics including interactions, time spent, likes, “saves,” prints and more.
  • Offering API integration within all units. The IAB Portrait’s API, which enables marketers to easily include interactive content, should be expanded to all units over time so that marketers can easily create units that include multimedia, shopping and sharing content. Embedding social plug-ins within the unit for example, will become more prevalent in the coming months (as forecasted in 360i’s recent “What’s Next 2011” report).

Next Step

Contact your 360i strategic advisor for further information.

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