If we can make websites responsive, what about online advertising?
At Blueprint, we design websites, landing pages, print materials, and online ads. With election season upon us, these days we're especially busy with the latter! For any given campaign, we typically design an ad at 300x250 pixels — a standard ad size. Once our client approves it, we resize it to any other required dimensions (commonly, 728x90 and 160x600, but sometimes also 300x50 and even smaller for display on mobile devices). This very manual process takes significant time and has left me wondering, if we can make websites responsive, is there a way we can make advertisements responsive? (for a description about responsive web design, see my earlier post, Blueprint Goes Responsive)
Unfortunately, the answer is not so fast. Some quick research confirmed my suspicions about some of the complications and gave me a sense of where the industry is in making it a common practice. I thought I'd share...
To be sure, some websites do flexibly handle advertisements within their responsive layouts, where ads might be shown (or not) in different places on a website depending on the site visitor's display size. But that's not a solution to our resizing needs. I'm looking for a way to design ads that, themselves, are responsive. Of course this is possible, since conceivably you could take the same techniques that you'd use to design a responsive website and apply them in designing a responsive ad (and in fact, Rob Flaherty offers two demos of how this could be done).
However, there are a number of obstacles keeping a responsive design approach from being practical for online advertising as we know it. Below are a few, but to learn more, I recommend this article by Mark Boulton and this article by Matthew Snyder and Etai Koren for Net Magazine, which helped inform this post.
There are a lot of players.
A lot of people are involved in the production and serving of an ad, including (but not limited to) strategists, content writers, designers, advertisers, buyers, exchanges, ad networks, and publishers. Changing our traditional approach to presenting ads will mean everyone must evolve.
Current ad sizes are standardized and formats are fixed, not flexible.
Traditionally (and today) those who display advertising sell space in standardized, set dimensions (300x250, 728x90, and 160x600 are common). They require certain formats of "creative" to fill those spots, and these formats (GIFs, SWFs, etc.) are not flexible.
Responsive ad space would be complicated to sell and buy.
If you sell or buy responsive ad space, is it one space or three if the same creative morphs into three different sizes/layouts depending on the viewer's display? Does it cost the same amount if it appears above the fold on some display sizes but well below it on others? Sales teams will need to grasp what they're selling, and buyers will need to understand what they are getting.
The process for getting client approval would have to change.
If we start designing ads that flexibly adapt to different display sizes, then our approach for getting client approvals may need to get more flexible, too. Currently, our clients approve static storyboards for static ads and for Flash animated ads (they also get to approve the developed versions of the Flash ads), but it won't really be practical to send discreet formats of each and every view of an ad whose layout morphs based on the user's display.
It's not practical to scale automatically to very small sizes.
Simply scaling down an existing ad to smaller dimensions isn't reliable, even if they're the same aspect ratio. More often than not, text becomes illegible at small mobile sizes, and it can be nearly impossible to optimize some of the file sizes down to publisher standards (and can mean you have to make some sacrifices that greatly change the look of an ad, like severely restricting the amount of colors used, turning off effects like shadows and gradients, etc.) Those choices can't effectively be made in an automatic way by a browser.
It will be challenging to handle the same content at very small sizes.
It's simply not practical to use the same amount of content in a mini 300x50 ad for a mobile screen and in a 900x300 ad to span the top of a desktop user's browser. For instance, a shoe store might be able to explain the terms of a sale and even list a couple locations on a large ad, but when it comes to the mobile-sized ad, it may only be practical to say that there IS a sale, and give a button that says "SHOP." These content changes involve some strategy and can't just be made automatically by a browser. An added challenge comes when trying to incorporate a legal disclaimer (several of our clients require these). On a recent standard 300x250 ad that I designed, a barely readable disclaimer took up roughly 300x25px across the bottom of the ad. That would take up half the height and the full width of a 300x50 mobile ad (and far surpass the size of one that's 120x20).
With all of these complications, responsive advertising may not be right around the corner. But there's a lot of buzz about it, so we'll keep an eye out for developments. We'll keep you posted!
Most Popular Posts
Blueprint on Twitter
Follow us @BlueprintTweets!