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The evolution and future of display advertising

By Stuart Aitken |

April 5, 2012 | 5 min read

Stuart Aitken, editorial manager at the Internet Advertising Bureau, discusses how display advertising has evolved and what can be expected in the future.

On October 25th 1994, the website HotWired hosted the world’s first banner advert. The 468 x 60 banner for AT&T teased web users by asking them if they had ever clicked on a banner. "You will" it predicted. And so online display advertising was born.

Now, 18 years on, we know from the latest IAB / PwC Online Adspend figures that the online display sector is worth over £1 billion (for the first time ever). What's even more remarkable is that this growth has been achieved against a difficult backdrop. With recession biting over recent years, display has continued its upwards progress. Indeed in the last year alone the sector grew by 13.4%.

Obviously things have moved on significantly since that first invitation to click from AT&T. Indeed, a key factor in this upsurge in recent years has been the evolution of exciting new formats being championed by forward looking media owners keen to embrace the fact that display is no longer simply a direct response medium.


Without wanting to blow our own trumpets too much, we at the IAB have done a lot of work to contribute to the growth and evolution of the display sector. We helped establish formats such as banners, skyscrapers and MPUs as standards that are now recognised throughout the industry. We also played a key role in stamping out the use of highly intrusive formats like pop-ups.

As a result the standardised display formats have become hugely effective tools for three key purposes: to deliver brand messages; to immerse consumers with interactive experiences; and to generate a direct response from consumers.

Now, as the digital landscape continues to evolve, we're seeing display adapting in response as publishers begin to adopt bigger formats which pave the way for increased innovation and creativity. The results are some of the most radical developments in the history of display advertising.


It's for this reason that the IAB launched its Future Formats initiative in November 2011. The call for entries resulted in a range of submissions from across the publishing spectrum, all of which showcased the improved opportunities offered by larger, more interactive canvases which can provide users with more immersive content to engage with.

The winning entry – The Telegraph’s Cascade format powered by Google DoubleClick – for example offers advertisers increased space within which to tell their story. As the user interacts with the format more details are gradually revealed allowing consumers the option to engage at a deeper level with products and services they want to know more about.

Formats like these open up a world of opportunity for advertisers keen to tell a story and build their brand online. And there is evidence to suggest that they are working.

The IAB’s Size Matters research highlighted the effectiveness of new large display formats across five key brand metrics - Aided Brand Awareness; Online Ad Awareness; Message Association; Brand Favourability; and Purchase Intent.

The study analysed the effectiveness of new, larger online display ad formats with the results drawn from 940 campaigns served over a two year period across the UK, USA, Europe, South America and Australasia.

Six formats were analysed. Three of these were new, larger formats (Billboard, Wallpaper and Half Page) and three were the more traditional, established formats (Skyscraper, MPU and Banner).

The study found that while the standard formats still play a key role (the skyscraper for example outperformed other formats at the end of the purchase funnel), the larger formats outperformed the established formats in a number of key areas.

For example, the Billboard offered three times better ad awareness levels and twice the level of brand favourability uplift than the next best performing format (wallpaper). Equally, the Wallpaper format provided five times the level of message association and the highest level of brand awareness.

These are strong results and this is an exciting time for the display sector. Here’s to another 12 months of growth and development.


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