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Cross-device Portability Demands, Part III

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 11:07 AM

Selling ads in a world where space has lost its usual meaning, step 1.

By William Dunkerley

"Online ad sales teams are not selling responsive ad packages. Online advertisers don't even know how to spell responsive," is how one observer put it.

The advent of cross-device portability has presented publishers with a number of challenges. In Part I we discussed the emergent consumer demand for cross-device portability in accessing a publication's content. Part II dealt with making content fit and serving reader needs no matter what device is used. We discussed the concept of responsive Web design.

Now we turn our attention to ads. If the above quote has merit and advertisers don't really understand responsive design, then the job of selling ads for a responsive publication will have an added complexity.

Some publishers employing responsive design have simply carried over the standard digital formats that have been in use all along. Here's an illustration of standardized digital formats.

Standard digital ad formats.

Staying with well-known ad formats obviates the need for advertisers to understand anything about responsive design. It is perhaps the path of least resistance.

But shoehorning in old-style digital ads has some downsides. Here's an example from Folio:, a publication that has been at the forefront of adopting responsive design. Note the Wright's Media banner at the top of the page.

Full screen view.

When we narrowed the browser window, the editorial content nicely and responsively reformatted itself. But the ad didn't. See here:

Content responded but the ad didn't.

The result makes the Wright's Media ad virtually useless.

That's why perpetuating the old standard sizes isn't a good idea. Note that the package of formats shown above includes pop-up sizes. Additionally, Web readers may encounter auto-start video and audio advertising, and various hover-initiated forms of advertising.

Together these techniques constitute digital formats that really seem to annoy readers. That's led to a great consumer demand for pop-up blockers, which in turn has led advertisers to employ means to circumvent pop-up blockers.

Where will this end? We have some historical examples. At one time telemarketing was viewed as an up-and-coming way for a seller to reach out to prospective customers. But in the absence of an effective industry response to abuse, telemarketing proliferated to a scale that made consumers irate. They began practicing call screening. Ultimately laws were established that lawmakers claimed would solve the problem. (The laws didn't solve much, but that's another story.) Email advertising is another example. It became so annoying that a spam-blocking industry was spawned, and (ineffectual) laws were put into place too.

I've never seen any evidence that a good way to gain the favor of prospective consumers is to annoy them. Yet advertisers have bungled their way through one annoying scheme after another.

And the banner ads? They're not so annoying, but they don't work well. They don't produce good results. That's why so many advertisers have hung on to print media for as long as they have. Print ads are less annoying, and they embody advertising techniques that produce better results. I can't imagine that any experienced advertiser or marketer invented and promoted the banner ad. It looks to me more like something that came out of the world of programming and coding. It was something that in the early days of HTML was practical and easy to do.

So where does that leave us in selling ads in a responsive Web design publication today?

I think what we have now is an opportunity to change course, cut out the annoying and intrusive forms of advertising, and give advertisers and our audiences a better deal.

In a future issue we'll explore what that better deal might be.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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