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What Is Rich Media in an Online Advertising Context?


Easy task, at a first sight: defining what exactly can be considered a ‘rich media ad‘. It is, of course… a ‘rich media ad’, as in a display ad taken one step further. Surely, this is not a definition. But it was pretty much all I could gather – from people who work in the online advertising industry and especially agencies.

It then became clear that not only there is no uniform, standardized approach to define rich media ads across all functions of the online advertising industry, but agencies in particular don’t seem too concerned with it: they’re happy to have received campaigns and ad creatives to fill media plans with, and there’s little interest as to what lies underneath.

But what are rich media ads anyway?

The simplest (and most inaccurate) definition I got came from, you guessed, an ad agency: “ads over 40 kB in size“. I smiled and nodded at this display of candor that can be translated in only one possible way – “if we have to pay extra ad serving fees, it’s rich media” – knowing that most ad serving companies would charge extras for creative files over 40 kB in size and these are usually (but not always, of course) rich media ads. I once had an advertiser sending me a 250 kB jpeg file to be trafficked as a banner ad, and surely there was no rich media involved.

However simplistic this surrogate of definition is, you’ll be surprised it would actually be a fit for a large percentage of cases. It is, if you wish, a statistically-proven definition.

Still, I hope you will agree this isn’t by far the way an online advertising professional should define rich media.

The most complete, down-to-earth definition is probably the one formulated by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), although they have come to formulate it in regard to ad measurement practices* and not
as a universal, stand alone definition. The IAB defines rich media ads as “advertisements with which users can interact (as opposed to solely animation) in a web page format. These advertisements can be used either singularly or in combination with various technologies, including but not limited to sound, video, or Flash, and with programming languages such as Java, Javascript, and DHTML.”

If we’re to get into a bit more detail, we need to explain that in order for an ad to be classified as ‘rich media ad’, it will need to allow direct and active participation from the viewer, establishing a two-way communication. An ad made of an animated GIF file is not a rich media ad, for example, no matter how flashy, jumpy, animated it is.

Going back to the 40 kB filesize issue, I’m glad to have just discovered a counter example: the Ramp Digital Adplications platform lets you create interactive ads that are under 40kB, thus circumventing rich media fees charged by most ad servers. Ramp says that their ad units are IAB compliant, and they can even enable semantic capabilities so that the ad content delivers real-time dynamic contextual relevance to the page content. Still, Ramp falls into the trap of defining rich media ads as ‘under 40kB’, which is painfully wrong in my opinion**.

What does ‘rich media ad’ means to you, though? In what context do you use the term and how would you define it?

* http://www.iab.net/iab_products_and_industry_services/1421/1443/Rich_Media_Measurement
** http://www.rampdigital.com/adplications