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IAB sets new guidelines for online advertising

New guidelines from industry group attempt to help online advertisers and agencies by providing more clarity to the interactive-ad business.

The IAB is hoping its new set of guidelines will help online advertisers better understand the interactive-ad market and how to work with ad networks and exchanges.

The Interactive Ad Bureau, a trade association consisting of almost 500 media and technology companies that sell online advertising in the U.S., released the final version of its "Networks & Exchanges Quality Assurance Guidelines" (PDF) document on Thursday. The goal behind the new guidelines is to bring some clarify and transparency to the world of interactive advertising so that online advertisers can find a sometimes-confusing market more hospitable.

Sherrill Mane, senior vice president of Industry Services for the IAB, spoke to CNET about the guidelines and what they mean for members of the IAB and online advertisers.

One of the fastest growing sectors of the interactive-advertising business is the ad network and ad exchange, according to Mane. Ad networks are companies that take content, or inventory, from online publishers and other Web sites that don't necessarily have a dedicated sales staff and sell that content on a larger scale. The ad network and the Web site then each get a share of the revenue.

An ad exchange is similar to an ad network but acts more as a facilitator to help publishers and Web sites sell their content. Both can aggregate content from a large number of Web sites to sell it.

Ad networks and exchanges make up some of the IAB's membership. But their marketplace can be complex and confusing, admits the IAB. With over 1 million Web sites currently carrying advertising and more than 300 ad networks and exchanges helping to sell content, the IAB thought that new guidelines were needed to clarify this growing market and relationship.

The IAB typically designs guidelines as a service to clients to create greater transparency in how its member companies do business and what they sell. The goal is to better serve the clients but also bring more dollars to the medium of interactive advertising.

In furthering that goal, the new "Networks & Exchanges Quality Assurance Guidelines" sets down some specific terms to benefit advertisers and agencies that use ad networks and exchanges, including the following:

  • Categories of illegal content should be defined. For example, any content that infringes a copyright should be labeled as prohibited for sale.
  • Advertisers should be given content categories that are universally and consistently defined.
  • Terms for data disclosure should be outlined for off-site behavioral targeting and third-party data.
  • Terms for targeting and data should be defined to help eliminate confusion.

The new guidelines are voluntary to the ad networks and exchanges, but Mane said that if a number of competitors all agree to raise the standard, then other companies will follow suit to stay competitive.

On behalf of its member companies, the IAB works on initiatives that help grow the interactive-ad marketplace. The group tries to educate and recommend standards for marketers, agencies, media companies, and other businesses about interactive advertising.

Disclaimer: Neil Ashe, president of CBS Interactive, serves as vice chairman of IAB's board. CNET is a division of CBSi.