Many creative designers blame publisher’s strangle-hold grip over low specs, especially in relation to the maximum file size allowed for advertising content, as a key reason to hamper creativity. I disagree.

Can we really argue the 30 seconds 4:3 ratio is the ultimate problem behind bad TV ads, or is it just simply bad creative? A lack of understanding of the user environment combined with a poor grip on creative execution is more likely what determines a bad advert as compared to a good one, format is a much smaller variable then would initially (and conveniently) be assumed.

Neither do I accept that all TV ads need to have sound switched up to deafening proportions, be Hi-Def with 7:3 surround sound in order to be effective, any more than films do. I for one enjoy black and white photography and appreciate it for its aesthetic and tonal values – in the right circumstances it can enhance and not hinder my viewing pleasure. World cinema would be a further example of people making exceptions even for sound tracks. Advertising content just needs to strike the right chord of emotional connection.

There always will exist a tension between clients and creative’s pushing boundaries and publisher working to the lowest common denominator in order to guarantee reach. But is that to negate a legitimate claim that file sizes do pose a problem, and what, if anything, can be done about it?

Creative’s always argue that broadband ensures everything loads quicker, and therefore advertising content should be larger. However user experience always reveals people browse quicker. It used to be acceptable in dial-up days for 30 seconds for a page load, now 6 seconds could be very well be the average time spent on a homepage. That is saying nothing to mention the fact that editorial content equally is equally becoming more bandwidth intensive too.

Within the maximum value in kilobytes of a publisher’s page content, a portion of total file weight is left for advertising. This is worked out from an acceptable time frame to load a page against a user’s patience to view. When broadband became an accepted norm the advertising file size jumped from 15k to 30k accordingly. But this was just a means of initial control for page load. At the heart of Rich media ad serving is not just intrusive advertising, but an effective two-part delivery process that plays the publisher specs; the accepted 30k banner space must be downloaded within the rest of the page, but once page is loaded in its entirety, a subsequent stream of advertising content may be pushed to the user. This is the industries accepted ‘polite’ download of advertising content, seeking to strike a balance between quality content and seamless user experience.

However recent analysis from publisher ad operations departments suggests 30k in file weight (or any size) does not always convey the demands of CPU processor, which is another equal, if not more important aspect to ‘polite’ downloads.

Sitting with Herbert Dazo, Ad Technology Manager for Yahoo! EMEA he explained the predicament, “for example, copying a rain drop multiple times in flash ads or adding transparent smoke will grind speed of most demanding processors to a halt. Even though the reality is these can be physically small files, the rendering makes it such they are no longer ‘polite’, i.e. in keeping with an acceptable user experience whilst a page loads.” Dazo also went on to say “this is beyond mere page load, this is post-page load performance.”

The intensity of an animation needs to be brought into a new standard for polite downloads to complement mere file-size. What percentage of performance does a particular creative have on a 3Ghz computer and how does that compare to a 1Ghz computer, even if they have the same broadband connection speed? What percentage of CPU speeds does each site or section have and what could be considered an acceptable strain on performance for an advert before it would be rejected? Furthermore could this become a metric and tool be developed to measure this by ad traffickers before accepting an advert for distribution?

Knowing that CPU speeds can be measured within Flash, at least in theory, this should be a fairly simple metric to measure and balance to determine. A methodology in order to ascertain the following graph could therefore be investigated, which should reveal overall preferred optimum for a section and/or optimum for a specific processor speed.

Post-page load performance graph

The concept is to avoid potential damage to the user experience and to ensure creative streaming is optimised correctly to complement file sizes.

In the above example, after 0.7 seconds there is a peak in creative draining performance which lasts for a further second before dipping back into an acceptable limit. This may be enough to cause an advert to annoy users and as a result be pulled. Investigation in advance could ensure creative was tweaked accordingly, or at least filtered to higher processor speeds only and avoid any negative impact during a campaign.

At the end of the day, if performance of any part of a site, including adverts, is causing bad user experience, it must be addressed immediately and publishers must act accordingly to protect their reach. Post-page load performance could become as much part of the norm for publisher specs when defining ‘polite’ as file size is right now.