Digital publishers face radical revamp of ad standards; crack-down on pop-ups, big ads and autoplay

Australia’s digital industry body the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is to consult the local market on a radical overhaul of advertising standards guidelines issued by its US counterpart.

As part of this week’s IAB Mixx conference in New York, the US Interactive Advertising Bureau proposed a comprehensive new set of technical standards for digital ads designed to provide users with a better experience.


An obvious challenge for the Australian IAB in adopting the standards would be rules saying that autoplay video must be muted – a practice that IAB member Fairfax Media does not follow on its news sites. Among those from Australia attending the event were Fairfax Media’s commercial boss, Tom Armstrong, along with new IAB CEO, Vijay Solanki, and new chair, Nicole Sheffield, from News Corp.

The expanded new guidelines are in part a response to the rise of ad-blocking which is being driven by consumers exasperated by bad experiences when they visit sites. The rules demand smaller files sizes and non-invasive ads.

They also set out standards around native ad formats along with virtual reality and 360-degree video ads.

The IAB in the USA is running a consultation period on the new standards over the next month. And IAB Australia’s Solanki told Mumbrella that he would be posting the standards on his site for a local consultation, which will run in parallel with the US process.

Although the two organisations share branding and a common purpose, there will be no obligation for IAB Australia to follow the guidelines unless it chooses to do so. The organisation also has no powers to force members to follow the standards, although there could be some pressure from advertisers and agencies to do so.

However, Google was one of the organisations involved in drawing up the guidelines and has previously downgraded sites on its search listings that did not give a good mobile experience. It would be a realistic expectation for the future that the search giant would do the same to sites not following IAB ad guidelines.

In the US, WPP’s media agency arm, GroupM, was a part of the process in drawing up the draft guidelines.


The new rules refer to LEAN (lightweight, encrypted, AdChoices supported and non-invasive) principles.

For large video files or more immersive advertising experiences, to save data costs and unnecessary page loading time, the file should start downloading only once a user clicks on it, rather when they first land on the page.

According to the proposed guidance, publishers should remember that consumers’ main reason for being on the site is not to see the ads. It states:

LEAN ad experience for digital advertising is based on the following principles:

  1. Respect: A consumer’s primary objective is consuming publisher content
  2. Control: A consumer has control over his/her advertising experience
  3. Choice: A consumer decides what content he/she wants to experience and for how long

Accordingly, LEAN guidance addresses the following:

  1. Light weight user experience to maximise initial page load performance

  2. Non disruptive ad experiences

The specifications cover multiple devices from smartphones through to large screen desktops including ad dimensions and maximum file sizes. For mobile devices this should be just 50kb for a small smartphone banner, through to 900kb for a large leaderboard on a desktop site.

The detailed technical standards also set out the compressed gzip format that the HTML5 ads should be delivered in, and also limits how the ad is built to minimise the number of file requests to 10 per ad, as this also impacts page load time.

Animated ads within advertising positions will be limited to 15 seconds. However, this does not include pre- and post-roll ads within video content.

The rules state “flashing and bright colour animation MUST NOT be used”.

Where ads are expandable, having them expand simply when a user hovers over them will no longer be acceptable – they will have to actually click, tap or swipe to indicate they want the ad to expand.

There will also need to be an obvious button to close the expanded ad.

In another change likely to affect many Australian publishers, inline ads which expand within a page will only be permitted where they don’t block the content, or move it when the user collapses the ad.

Interstitial ads – which appear before a user is allowed to view the content – must have a close button, and forced countdowns are not recommended under the new guidance.

Video ads that appear within the run of a site, rather than in a video player will now have to be user initiated to save on file size, which is recommended to run no more than 15 seconds and be capped at 1.1MB file size. And the user will need to have access throughout the process to being able to mute or stop the videos.

The rules for autoplay video state that it should not take place when a user might be using expensive cellular data, and it says all autoplay video must be muted – a principle not always followed in Australia.

The autoplay rules state:

When is auto play video allowed?
Publishers and advertisers are encouraged to allow user control over their auto play experience by storing user preference or providing low data consumption modes in apps and websites. Video MAY be played by the ad without user initiation when it does not significantly impact the user’s cost of consuming content. It may be used under the following guidance:

  1. When a user is on wifi or broadband internet connections. This is to respect user’s cost of consuming content.

  2. Audio MUST be muted when video is played without user initiation.

  3. Auto play MUST begin after ad is at least 50% in view

  4. Auto play MUST provide pause/play and mute/unmute controls from the start of video play

  5. The video file for auto play MUST be downloaded as part of the subload

Also outlawed will be pop-up ads, along with ads that “float in” or “slide in” and cover any of the site’s content. These are also popular high-impact formats for Australia’s major publishers.

There are also expanded IAB standards for native ads, which includes that the name of the sponsor must appear.

Other standards cover everything from use of branded emojis to vertical video, 360-degree video, VR ads and use of augmented reality.

m360 2016

Solanki: Made no promises about implementing the new IAB standards locally

Solanki urged the Australian industry to be part of the consultation process but was careful to make no commitment to adopt the guidelines locally. He told Mumbrella: “We welcome and encourage comment/feedback from the industry. The better the input the better the guidelines.

“These are a solid set of principles which have been well researched by the IAB USA. We will take a close look as IAB Australia.”


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