Rich Media Advertising: Who’s Killing It And Why

Who is killing rich media advertising

The writing’s on the wall for rich media advertising as we know it today.

When it debuted, the rich functionality in rich media advertising was seen as a victory. At first it was animation, but then interactive elements became available. Banners could play videos, pop over your screen and expand over content.

The vision behind rich media advertising was admirable: make ads that people want to interact with. But it turned out to be a bait and switch.

Instead of endearing consumers to ads, these formats did the opposite. They pestered users with unwanted pop ups, aggravating expansions, and startling autoplay video with audio. They “politely” loaded megabyte after megabyte on people’s mobile data plans. They intruded at every opportunity because of marginal gains in CTR.

As the ad industry transforms, rich media is on the chopping block. Here are the top 5 attackers.


Rich media units were built for site-specific executions. Programmatic was built for audience-specific execution. There was a conflict of interest from the get go.

Publishers who open up inventory programmatically don’t want to run the risk of unknown advertisers taking over the site experience by expanding or slowing the site down with heavy ads. So programmatic rich media adoption hasn’t met expectations. Some programmatic vendors are carrying the attack even further: AppNexus announced it would stop selling pop-ups and pop-under units effective Jan 1, 2017.

Ad Blockers

Ad blocking has risen in response to a poor user experience with ads. Rich media units are the worst offenders. These units are seen as a catalyst for the ad blocking movement. Public sentiment for rich media is at an all time low. In order to not fan the ad blocking fire, advertisers will move away from these controversial ad units. Meanwhile, publishers are cutting rich media placements from their sites.


The IAB asks for ads to be light, encrypted, AdChoices-supported, and noninvasive with the new LEAN ad standard. Said the IAB, “We over-engineered the capabilities…steamrolled the users, depleted their devices and tried their patience.” More recently they began phasing out the Rising Stars, the once the darlings of the rich media ad world. The IAB at one point rallied the industry around rich media standards. Now they are destroying rich media from the inside.


Last year Google killed Flash. Flash was once the de facto file format for rich media advertising. This year Google announced penalties for mobile web pages with intrusive interstitial ads. They indicated a refusal to exchange some intrusive ad units beginning in 2017. While groups like the IAB help define standards, Google is often the first to act, and what follows dictates what the industry is going to do. They clearly have no problem undercutting this format.

The Coalition for Better Ads

The IAB, Google, plus GroupM, P&G, Facebook and many other influential companies have formed an industry group to develop and enforce standards for better ads. This super-group is potentially much more powerful than the IAB or Google alone. It could bring down the hammer for a final blow to many of the remaining rich media units in the months to come.

The Future of Rich Media Advertising

Will rich media advertising still have a place in our industry? Possibly. The popular rich media formats are all video-centric — almost a category of its own. Apart from video, other rich media executions will fall to a handful of user-friendly formats, as well as premium publishers who are offering advertisers a custom, native experience on their site. The industry will eliminate most of the other rich formats from mass use as the industry moves toward a LEAN, responsive and user-centric future.

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