Why IAB’s Updated Definition of Video Ads Is Making Waves

Read the original article by Erik Dubbeldeman in Dutch over at emerce.nl


I haven’t heard much about it in the Netherlands yet, but internationally, IAB’s new classification of instream and outstream video ads is leading to widespread criticism. The new classifications, centred around sound being turned on or off, are short-sighted and detract from what the focus should really be about: offering varied and valuable ads.


For six months, hardly anyone heard about the IAB Tech Lab’s new guidelines for digital-video and connected-TV ad formats, but now, unease is starting to grow. Following a critical article by Adweek, there is considerable international discussion about the controversial choices made by IAB. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, the mood remains anxiously silent. It’s time to change that.



Are THE guidelines clear or not?

Let me start by saying that with digital video ad spending estimated to rise by $50 billion globally this year – investment in connected TV alone is expected to increase by 22% – it makes sense for the IAB Tech Lab to want to establish clear guidelines for video advertising.


The world of online video is incredibly vast, which is driving increasing interest in instream and outstream video offerings. In addition, publishers in particular are also increasingly launching new, interactive ad formats: from split screen and shoppable ads to commercials with integrated calls to action. But in the end, there are only two main types of video ads: instream and outstream.



Outstream versus instream

As the names indicate, one type refers to ads that are streamed alongside a video (such as pre-roll and mid-roll ads) while the other describes video ads that appear independently of editorial video content. But where video ads are placed is no longer the only distinction between the two types.



Misleading guidelines

IAB’s new guidelines focus almost entirely on sound, specifically the sound that accompanies the video. Yet, sound is only one element of all the creative possibilities that outstream has to offer. By drawing a dotted line between instream (with audio) and outstream (no audio), in my view IAB is ignoring the bigger picture in the meteoric rise of video. What further stands out for me is the statement that not only must instream ads have audio on by default, but that where that is not possible, users must “explicitly demonstrate intent to view the video”. But what exactly do they mean by that? Whether audio is on or not is measurable, but exactly what “explicit intent” means is left to one’s own interpretation in the guidelines.


Again, it is good that IAB is taking a critical look at the evolution of video ads. The various cowboys – that is, the plethora of cheap, intrusive video ads – must be stopped, but IAB should resist the temptation to discredit instream and outstream formats. In practice, depending on the advertiser’s objectives, both video formats work well.



A definition too far

Online video integration is a matter of nuance: there are lots of different considerations that go into the end result. So to boil these down to whether a video ad is audio-enabled or not feels too rigid and misses the user’s say on how they themselves see ads.


A more important and, in my opinion, much more effective way to define a premium video experience is in terms of relevance and engaging user experience. Basing an ad’s quality on whether or not it has sound on creates unnecessary division and looks more like a distraction. Instead of arguing about sound, it would be much better to focus on how to create sustainable value for users, because that alone should be the goal of any video ad.


Creating sustainable value for the user may sound more complicated than it is in practice. By sustainable value, I really just mean to say that users are shown a video ad that suits their behaviour, the device they are watching the video on and their preferences. And I cannot stress it often enough: sound being on or off only plays a minor role in this. Users simply want to see creative videos that convey messages clearly, messages that inspire and motivate. Advertisers, meanwhile, simply want their ads to have great reach and meet their KPIs.



Varied ad formats

The creative space is very wide these days, with choice between deploying in or outstream videos, reels on Facebook and Instagram, top-view or in-feed videos on TikTok or dynamic split screens or other interactive instream ad solutions on publishers’ websites. Most variants offer an interactive way of advertising, using numerous dynamic elements such as video, product showcase, social media feeds, coupons, and store locators. What is even more interesting is that these options can also be measured separately, in addition to the standard measurement methods. This also gives advertisers more valuable insights into the results of their campaigns.



Let’s send a clear message

With this article, I hope to further stir up the discussion about the new video advertising guidelines in the Netherlands as well. After all, the only way to exert influence is by sending a signal, and that can only be done by getting involved in the international discussion. Together, we can ensure that the debate is no longer about instream or outstream, but about quality, creativity, and a perfect user experience. Care to join me?