Making the case for LEAN-er online ads

Vibrant Media finds strong results in reducing ad weight, hopes others will follow

Jared Lindzon July 19, 2016

The LEAN ads charter, unveiled just seven months ago, is a bid to make online advertising less onerous and, hopefully, reduce the use of ad blockers. While it hasn’t yet been adopted widely enough to test it long-term effectiveness, some advertisers are seeing the benefits of adopting LEAN’s principals.

LEANexplainerThe LEAN ads program, which stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads, was developed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in direct response to ad blocking, which grew by 41% last year alone, according to PageFair. It basically calls for advertisers to drop the “weight” of their ads by reducing their file size — making pages load faster — and design them to be less-disruptive.

“LEAN Ads, from a theoretical standpoint, is the industry’s commitment to cleaning the online media ecosystem, and this is the result of getting a better understanding of consumer preferences in their online experiences,” said Sonia Carreno, the president of IAB Canada. “It’s becoming a whole way of really evaluating new formats moving forward, as well as responding to ad blocking.”

• PageFair says mobile ad blocking has shot up 90%

In May, the IAB surveyed 30,000 Canadians with ComScore, and found that the primary reason Canadians employed ad blockers was to improve their browsing experience, reduce content interruptions and increase download speeds.

The survey also found that Canadians are less likely to turn to ad blockers when ads do not interfere with content or when there are fewer ads on each page.

“Even when you look at privacy and other issues that might have an impact on your opinion of advertising, it didn’t really factor in as heavily as just generally the annoyance in the user experience,” said Carreno.

Ad Blocking: Who to blame and how to fix it

As a result, Carreno and the IAB are encouraging advertisers to reduce ad weight, intrusiveness and general “annoyance factor.” Carreno knows it’s a tall order, especially when considering the additional functionality that clunkier ads present. But she likens the initiative to the launch of Twitter.

“How do you suddenly write an entire article in 140 characters?” she said. “It’s sort of the same idea — edit this down and still make it awesome. Show your true creative colours.”

Carreno says LEAN was met with some resistance and “eye rolling,” but some are embracing its principals. Vibrant Media — a New York-based native advertising platform with offices in Toronto — has recently reduced the weight of its in-text, in-image, out-of-stream video and high impact native ad formats by over 75%, down to an average of only 30.5 KB, in accordance with the LEAN principals.

Can smaller equal better?

“It’s very much about maintaining the same quality,” said David Baron, the senior account executive at Vibrant Media’s Toronto office. “That’s really what the challenge is. That’s why maybe other people haven’t done it yet, but I think that will be the case moving forward. We’ve taken a very proactive approach to doing this, and I think others will react for the same reasons.”

Vibrant Media hopes to show other advertisers that adhering to the LEAN principals doesn’t necessarily require reducing ad quality. Toby Doig, Vibrant’s senior vice-president of technology, explains that this was achieved by starting over with a new, lighter platform.

“By starting from scratch we could start with a design that supports everything we do right now whilst also anticipating things we expect to build or develop,” he wrote in an email interview. “For us, this commitment and effort is paying off; quicker to add features, easier to debug and is a joy to work with.”

Baron adds that in reducing its code-size and adhering to the LEAN principals, Vibrant Media has also been able to achieve a 93% viewability score.

“It’s not a sacrifice, it’s something our teams put work into to make sure we’re providing a better experience, and to communicate to the brands that we work with that we’re trying to make better ad experiences for their consumers,” he said. “With ad blocking and other viewability issues in the industry, brands are looking for people who are going to be proactive and vendors that are ensuring that their ads are viewable.”

The LEAN principals are still too new to measure adoption rates, ROI and its impact on ad blocking rates. Penny Stevens, the chair of board of the Institute of Communication Agencies, however, believes the benefits will become evident in due time.

The LEAN policy, in the long run, will help deliver a better ROI for all,” she told Marketing. “Over time, the impact will be measured through the perceived and measured efficacy of the channel by agencies, the attitude of marketers to the role and purpose of the channel and, in the final analysis, greater engagement in ads and positive ROI.”

Vibrant Media has shown that reducing ad sizes can provide positive results for individual advertisers, but Carreno suggests that the repercussions of maintaining the status quo are far more significant.

“This is no longer a back-room conversation talking about what best practices are to get a leg up; now it’s an imperative,” she said. “If you don’t follow best practices, you will lose. Either you will get ad-blocked or the consumer will get annoyed. And neither one of those are good outcomes.”