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Don't jam glorious brand content into ad units!

August 29, 2013 @ 10:36am

When the Ceros brand publishing platform re-launched in November, you could create engaging content in any size imaginable — as long as it was 1024px wide by 768px tall. Fortunately, that's the aspect ratio of an iPad if you're holding it sideways in landscape mode. 1024x768 is a remarkably flexible size. We set it up to stretch and fill its container and all Ceros content could be viewed on ceros.com, on the customer's own web site, on a mobile/tablet browser, in a native mobile app or embedded in Facebook.

So far, so good.

I had been pushing for custom canvas sizes for a long time, partly because I was excited that this would turn Ceros into an ad platform.

I saw three major paths ahead of Ceros:

The first path was as a design product. That puts Ceros in Adobe's market. There is simply no other realtime design collaboration tool like Ceros.

The second path was as a commerce product. That puts Ceros in eBay's market, which includes their PayPal, Magento, GSI Commerce and X.Commerce products — plus eBay itself. With product panels and easy shopping cart integration, it is absolutely painless to make content shoppable in Ceros.

The third path was as an advertising product. That put us squarely in Google's realm. Imagine a drag-and-drop authoring tool for creating interactive content in IAB ad unit sizes and, unlike Flash, all of these experiences run flawlessly on any tablet.

But before our custom canvas sizes arrived, I read a post from Contently's Sam Slaughter asking Should Branded Content Be Turned Into Ad Units?

One of the risks of shoving branded content under the broad umbrella of "native advertising" has long been that branded content would be thought of just that—ads, not high-quality journalism funded by brands. When branded content is thought of as the latter, it's at its best. When thought of as the former, it's at its self-promotional worst. And thanks to the race to bring programmatic-buying capabilities to sponsored content, it appears that the "branded content as ads" mindset is picking up steam.

Last week, AdAge reported on some new "pretty smart" solutions to "transform the world of sponsored content into a more programmatic buying experience." These solutions are all trying to do pretty much the same thing: create standard IAB ad units for branded content to live in, so that it can be bought and sold and retargeted at scale on ad exchanges.

It has been said that you are more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad. So why would anyone jam quality content into the parts of a website that we've all been trained to ignore?

I was no longer excited about path number three. Not a week goes by without me warning someone to be careful what they wish for. Now here I was wondering if we'd be opening up a can of IAB-sized worms by adding custom canvas sizes.

Well in the latest major Ceros release, custom canvas sizes are available. I'm not going to push for customers to make leaderboards, skyscrapers and medium rectangles for their interactive brand content. I'm just going to watch. Maybe our customers will come up with ad unit-sized content that's amazing or maybe they'll just build alternate versions of their content in a tall smartphone orientation. Who knows?

I'm not worried though. I've been pleasantly surprised by customers in the past.

Newer: Employee of the month

Older: I got the green light. I got a little fight.