The New IAB Classifications Do Not Take Users Into Account

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In its new re-classification of digital video ads, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has decided that an ad’s sound must be activated for an ad to be able to claim the more lucrative “instream” designation – a decision with far-reaching consequences.


The news has been stirring the digital video advertising ecosystem for several months: the distinction between instream and outstream, considered outdated, is now being replaced by a new classification issued by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). From now on, digital video ads will be divided into four categories: instream, accompanying content, interstitial and standalone.


In the past, ‘instream’ referred to ads that accompanied videos that users had chosen to watch. Traditionally, this format generated better visibility and was therefore more expensive than outstream, which referred to stand-alone video ads that are not linked to editorial content.


With this new classification, an advertisement will no longer be able to claim the title of instream simply by being broadcast along with an editorial video. If the sound is not activated by the user, it will be relegated instead to the new category of “accompanying content”.



increasing costs, decreasing accuracy

This new classification will increase the cost of instream formats, which will by definition become rarer: only campaigns broadcast on platforms specializing in video will be able to claim the ‘instream’ title. Campaigns broadcast in the context of written content, for example, and therefore without sound, will mechanically see their prices drop even if their impact remains significant.


Another problem with this new classification is that it overlooks the user by stating that an advertisement’s quality is determined by whether or not it has sound. That goes against the increasing number of consumers who generally watch video content without sound, finding subtitles sufficient.


This choice also depends on the user’s context and the device used. It makes sense to turn the sound on at home, on a connected TV for example, but to turn it off when viewing the same content on a smartphone in a public place. The IAB classification, by not taking into account the realities of consumption patterns, therefore establishes an artificial distinction between “real” and “fake” instream.



Re-centering the user

Above all, an advertisement’s quality cannot be measured by its sound activation: the important thing is to measure the engagement and interest it arouses in the user. This is why many attention measurement tools are now being developed to provide real quality indicators that take user experiences into account.


They show that attention does not depend on whether or not a “sound” feature is activated. What creates attention is first and foremost the quality of the environment in which an ad is displayed, the contextual relevance between the ad message and the content, and of course the intrinsic qualities of the ad creation. It is by measuring attention that brands ensure that they create real engagement with usera, and it is this that must define the quality of the advertising content.


With this classification, the IAB has legitimately sought to help the entire ecosystem to better navigate the myriad of advertising formats, of varying quality, that abound on the web. But this distinction based solely on the criterion of sound risks producing a negative effect: penalising quality media sites and independent publishers, who cannot always produce enough videos and therefore risk seeing their revenues fall. It would be fairer and more effective to distinguish, within the instream category, between advertisements according to how and for how long they are consumed by the user. For it is ultimately the user, and the user only, who should choose the degree to which they wish to engage with a brand.