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Two Rich-Media Technology Firms Try to Standardize Ad Purchases

Two "rich-media" advertising companies, Eyeblaster Inc. and Unicast Inc., unveiled new guidelines for online ad buying, in an effort to make it easier for publishers and advertisers to craft spots to various formats and technologies.

Closely held Eyeblaster, New York, creates the technology that allows ads to zoom or float around the screen, and then shut themselves down.

Eyeblaster said it is launching a searchable directory of rich-media advertising specifications of about 200 online publishers. The ad database is intended to make it easier for advertisers by listing the specifications of every ad format supported by each publisher.

Previously, advertisers using Eyeblaster formats had to work with each publisher separately. Although the formats aren't standardized yet, Eyeblaster hopes that creating the directory will encourage publishers to coalesce their different specifications around industry norms. Eyeblaster's new directory "tries to standardize ad formats that are used throughout our platform" said Tom Jenen, director of marketing for Eyeblaster.

The company also said it was launching a new format, called the Commercial Break. Similar to existing introductory ads that sites like Salon Media Group Inc. and MarketWatch.com Inc. already use, the Commercial Break runs before the site loads, and then shuts down to reveal the home page of the publisher.

Closely held Unicast, also based in New York, is working to simplify online advertising by streamlining the naming scheme of its advertising products. Instead of superstitials, banner ads, skyscrapers and introductory units, Unicast will now call its ads In Between-Page, Over-Page and In-Page.

Unicast, which had been known primarily for its superstitial format, is backing away from that designation in favor of the new names, said Allie Savarino, senior vice president of Unicast. "We had been hearing from advertisers, agencies, and publishers who were increasingly frustrated with the number of formats they had to support," she said. Unicast competes with Eyeblaster for licensing dollars from the publishers who support different ad formats.

Amid the simplification discussion, one online publisher, iVillage Inc., said Monday it would stop serving pop-up ads in deference to its readers' wishes. iVillage, New York, cited internal research that showed that the vast majority of its viewers were so annoyed by pop-up ads that they would not purchase products by advertisers who use the intrusive format.

In a recent survey of its users, more than 90% of respondents listed pop-up ads as the most frustrating online advertising method, iVillage said, topping even junk e-mail. The publisher still will serve rich-media ads like those from Eyeblaster and Unicast, pop-under ads and traditional banner ads, said Vanessa Benfield, senior vice president of sales. The company also is testing new formats of its own that it will introduce later this year.

Pop-up ads made up about 7% of all ads served by iVillage, which doesn't expect to lose any of its advertiser clients because of the move, Ms. Benfield said, declining to say how much pop-ups generated in terms of revenue. "We didn't see that there was any downside at all from a financial standpoint."

The women's network works with both Eyeblaster and Unicast, and supports both companies' efforts to simplify the industry, she added. "One of the biggest problems in the online space is that there's no set of standards," she said.

Although the industry is in need of standards, some question whether Eyeblaster or Unicast -- or anyone else with a vested interest in the outcome.

Setting standards is probably better left to a third party like the Internet Advertising Bureau or even ad-technology leader DoubleClick Inc., said Jim Nail, an online advertising analyst with Forrester Research. "It would be much better to have everything in one place, rather than some of it here, and some of it there," he said.

Although both companies probably "have their hearts in the right place," he said, they both have a vested interest in creating a standard around their format. "It won't be that useful to marketers and media buyers, because they'll believe that it's skewed."


Stephanie Miles, The Wall Street Journal Online. July 29, 2002

Copyright © 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.. All rights reserved.