NEW MEDIA: Spotlight on - IAB Creative Guidelines. Stating the obvious is no way to educate online advertisers. Alasdair Reid reports what the online industry thinks of the five rules for net ads

Larger ads work better. No, really, they do. Larger formats are proven to be three- to six-times more effective than smaller formats, it is written. Don't smile. Listen and learn. You have just experienced rule one of the five golden rules for online advertising. And here's rule two.

Targeting increases effectiveness. Smart marketers plan campaigns by targeting the right parts of a website for their audiences, getting better returns. Consider targeted inventory not just on price, but also effectiveness against advertising brand measures.

Unveiled for the first time last week, the rules were developed by the Internet Advertising Bureau in partnership with Dynamic Logic following extensive research across a range of countries, websites, sectors and markets. The partnership is to be extended to bring three further "waves of research to market over the next couple of months.

The market awaits - but in the meantime ...

Plan frequency. Increasing frequency increases effectiveness. Online ad effectiveness grows with each exposure. Optimal frequency varies between campaigns, but remains higher than many marketers think. Determine optimal frequency for your campaign, test optimal number of exposures for each campaign, as plateaux may vary. Building frequency is key to branding success.

Danny Meadows-Klue, the president of IAB Europe, and the man ultimately responsible for the rules, clearly has a penchant for Zen-like clarity and simplicity.

"These are simple tips that all marketers can follow to produce effective online campaigns. Many offline marketers still lack the confidence to use the internet and these simple rules are a great starting point, he states.

And it follows that you should always be bold with your logo. Powerful use of your logo throughout an ad disproportionately raises brand awareness and message association. Consistent presence of logo doubles branding results.

But wait. Are we taking our first tentative steps along the path of digital enlightenment? Or is this actually a litany of the bleedin' obvious.

Patrick Collister, the executive creative director of EHS Brann, says: "Who's going to argue against notions like impact and simplicity of thought - though we can all think of exceptions to the rule about large ads. We've all seen tiny but clever ads that have worked fantastically. And I suppose everyone knows that rules are there to be broken.

"Yes, if you spend more you often get more. Yes, you should aim to cut through clutter. But it all seems very prescriptive. It's an idiot's guide."

But we hadn't told you about rule number five. Cut the clutter. Simple artwork is often more powerful. Don't pack in too much.

As opposed to don't pack in too early. There's a serious point here though. It surely doesn't do the online business much good if its trade body stands charged with producing the Ladybird book of advertising.

Unfair, Matthew Mayes, the group creative director of Zentropy Partners London, responds.

"The point of having rules is that you have to know how and when to break them. That's why you have an agency. You have to have a creative approach to problem-solving. But there's nothing wrong in setting down rules like these as long as advertisers don't find them patronising. I'm sure some agencies will, but perhaps advertisers will find them useful," he says.

Jon Baines, the chairman of Lateral, isn't quite so charitable: "My first instinct is that it's pathetic, but I'm going to do my best not to slag it off. The first three rules are blatantly obvious. Would you tell someone in an advertising agency that a 48-sheet poster might work better than a sheet of A4? And more importantly, there is a genuine first rule before you get to any of this shit - and that's know what your objectives are. You're nowhere if you don't know what you're trying to achieve. And then you must be bold and clear with what you're trying to say. But beyond that, you can't make rules about the executional side."

But it's ultimately harmless stuff though, isn't it? No-one's seriously going to get annoyed with this document. And if one client finds it constructive, it is immensely worthwhile. And the IAB will argue that the rules are clearly for those who are internet virgins.

Some observers are alarmed about the message it sends to the marketing community as a whole. The medium is no longer about your bog-standard banner ads. It's increasingly used for branding campaigns and it is able to offer a range of rich media formats. So why talk about the size of your logo?

"Who are they really targeting with these rules? You'd have to assume it's for people who haven't understood what's been happening over the last five years, Baines states.

Collister agrees: "Perhaps, as an industry, we should look more often at what the Radio Advertising Bureau has done. It has marketed and promoted the medium without having to publish rules about how to advertise on radio.

"I think at this stage what's happening is that people are starting to realise just how huge the internet actually is.

"People are starting to discover it as an entertainment medium, for instance, and there are some amazing sites in terms of the way they go about building brand relationships.

"There's BMW films, or Absolut Director(absolut.com/director.asp) where people interact with the site to create their own films. But at this point you still have to be brave to see the internet as a place to experiment with the brand. I think clients will find this sort of stuff self-evident. What they want is more help in doing it better."

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