April 21, 2003 12:55 PM PDT

New online ads squeeze news pages

Several top online publishers have adopted newly sized advertisements that give marketers half of the page to tout their wares, in the industry's latest maneuver to make Web ads more pleasing to brand promoters.

Last week, New York Times Digital introduced half-page advertisements on its pages and those of its Boston affiliate, Boston.com. Days later, Forbes.com and CBSMarketwatch.com started displaying their own half-page ads, with others such as USAToday.com expected to follow suit.

"The goal is to make it easier on the traditional advertiser and to speak their language--a half-page ad is something they're used to in print," said Dan Silmore, director of marketing for CBSMarketwatch.com.

The new format is part of the industry's migration toward larger, information- or graphics-rich advertisements, which have been show to be more effective than standard banners and small buttons. But many Web operators are also looking in the opposite direction, rallying around text-only commercial links, which have proven effective and lucrative in the realm of search engine marketing on sites like Google.

Fueling momentum for big ads, the trade group Interactive Advertising Bureau late last year backed several new large formats, while it dropped endorsement of standard banners, the seminal shape of online advertising. Several research reports have shown that brand response rises with larger ads and less cluttered pages.

The new half-page ads support that theory, but have yet to be inducted as a standard size by the IAB. New York Times Digital, CBSMarketwatch.com and others want to push the ad size among other publishers to that advertisers have more options for their creative efforts. Uniform ad sizes simplify the buying and creative development process for agencies and advertisers.

Net publishers started to introduce larger ads after the dot-com bust in a bid to draw reluctant marketers to the Web. In 2001, CNET, publisher of News.com, unveiled the IMU (interactive marketing unit), an index-card-sized ad in the center of the page, and it was later inaugurated by IAB members. Industry executives say that such larger ads are fueling greater interest in online advertising by traditional marketers.

Michael Zimbalist, executive director of the Online Publishers Association, said that the industry hasn't "nailed a final set of online ad units," but rather is still experimenting with ads that give advertisers more space with which to be creative.

"The banner wasn't a great medium for either creative or information-rich advertising. This is part of an increasing trend to have fewer but bigger ad units," he said.

But Jakob Nielsen, a Web design expert and president of the Nielsen Norman Group, criticized the half-page units as pushing the fold on already annoying oversized ads.

"Ironically, the one type of ads that really work on the Web are the small, text-only ads on search engines. I would advise other sites to take what works and make it better rather than take what doesn't work and make it bigger," said Nielsen, who authored the book "Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed."

The NYTimes.com and others were forced to rejigger their publication systems to host the larger advertisements, and in some cases, redesign pages to cater to the ads. NYTimes.com, whose half-page ads appear down the right-hand side of the page, removed its site navigation bar down the left-hand side of story pages in order to make room for the ads. CBSMarketwatch.com displays the ads in the center of its pages.

Jason Krebs, vice president of sales for NYTimes.com, said that despite having to move its page navigation bar, no editorial graphics or multimedia will suffer for the sake of the ads. Still, the width of the news copy is squeezed.

"We created this because of a groundswell of response from ad community--they wanted more space with which to communicate a message."

Krebs and Silmore agree that the standard banner will be the casualty in the push for bigger ads online. Silmore said that his site is already selling fewer standard banners.

Rishad Tobaccowala, executive vice president of Chicago-based ad agency Starcom MediaVest Group, said the ads were a natural evolution of larger units with "less clutter and no pop-ups."

"Pop-ups and pop-unders make the Web navigation experience irksome--the half-page ad solves that problem because they don't appear out of nowhere. The traditional advertising community knows how to work in that space."

 

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