A Guide to Digital Ad Acceptance
In the real world of digital ad submission, rating ads may make for more savvy advertisers.
I must confess that when I began writing this article, I wanted to title it, "A Guide to Digital Ad Acceptance, a.k.a. What the @#$% is this!?" Here, at Easyriders' in-house prepress department, it's a phrase we often shout. And I find myself asking: Does accepting digital ads really have to be so difficult?
The real world of digital ads
For those of us who spend time in the industry at large—attending conferences, doing research and keeping up to date on the latest and greatest in ad delivery—the market realities can be rather sobering.
Presumably like other publishers, Easyriders receives all kinds of digital ad formats. Some files have been prepared with care; others feed my nightmares. But since I'm not in business to turn away poorly created ads, I've got to make them all work—somehow, some way.
The other side of Nirvana
Let's face it: the Nirvana envisioned by national publishers, agencies, and prep shops that provide TIFF/IT and PDF/X-1 files with digital proofs that actually match the file is still mostly a dream to us "small" publishers. We turn an ad away, we lose revenue. It's a simple equation. Faced with this challenge, I've devised a rating system that evaluates incoming ads, and I believe it can be a valuable tool for all publishers.
The rating system's objective is to provide some framework that helps the advertiser, the ad creator and the publisher gain perspective on the difference between digital ads that work and those that don't.
At Easyriders, we've created five categories for distinguishing digital ads: Preferred, Acceptable, Mar-ginal, Poor and Unacceptable. I define these based on liability and intervention—that is, how much work has to be done to a digital ad file to make it print ready.
I think we can all agree that the DDAP's (Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publications) credo of "Universal Exchange of Digital Advertising through Open Process Integration and Accredited Stan-dards" provides a fine target for the industry at large. But unless Billy Bob's Obsolete Dipsticks in Bofunk, USA decides to use Saatchi & Saatchi for his 1⁄12-page ad for Junkyard Illustrated ... well, we may have to make some compromises.
Here's how I've defined Easyrid-ers' digital ad categories:
Preferred ads are bulletproof and require almost no intervention from my staff. These ads include TIFF/IT-P1, TIFF, EPS, PDF/X-1 and properly prepared PDF files. Each file accompanies a high-end digital proof made from the file. We preflight the ad (full or fractional) and import it to page layout. There's no charge back to the advertiser.
An acceptable ad requires slightly more intervention, but at least it has been prepared with professional industry standards in mind. Examples include native Quark-XPress or InDesign files with all images (at least 200 ppi resolution) in CMYK, and items such as clipping paths turned on. All of the fonts have been embedded, and the ad has have been preflighted before submission.
While it's an arbitrary number, I don't like to see any ad with more than 12 images in the file, and the file must be accompanied by a high-quality digital proof.
Files created in Illustrator or FreeHand are also acceptable, as long as images are high-res CMYK and all fonts are turned to outline.
If you're going to accept these ads, make sure that your advertisers are aware that they should either go back to a prep shop and spend the money to get a "Preferred" ad, or they will have to shoulder the responsibility if something should go awry. Acceptable ads may carry a premium charge of between 0 and 10 percent.
With marginal ads, we head into an area where a supplied ad can cause as much amusement as grief. But what can you say to an advertiser who submits a marginal ad? "At least you're trying?"
A marginal ad could be a mis-sized Quark file, such as a flier for Mistress Moldavia's Tattoo and Body Piercing Emporium ad ("We specialize in maximum pain") that is scheduled to run in a 73⁄4x101⁄2˝ book. The images might be RGB JPEGs, or the proof done on a black-and-white laser printer. It's not ideal, but we can make it work.
Our first task is to find out who created the ad and how it was prepared: A friend who sidelines as a graphic designer? What software was used?
Then, walk the advertiser through the process of fixing the ad, and don't neglect to mention the premium charges for doing so, which can range between 5 and 20 percent.
Poor ads make even the lion-hearted prepress operator cringe. Poor ads may be: on a PC-formatted disk, created in Pagemaker 5, filled with low-res PICT images, TrueType Fonts or stylized type. Or they could be QuarkXPress files that bulge with 80 images. Perhaps there's no proof with the file. Or maybe fonts are missing. Or they could appear to have silhouetted images, but after closer inspection, you realize that the paths are turned off and the files have been saved in TIFF instead of EPS format. You find yourself asking: What does the advertiser want?
Major work is needed to get a "Poor" ad to work, and possible premium charges can be as much as 50 percent of the ad's cost.
Unacceptable may be a bit of a misnomer, for we never turn away advertising. These ads include those prepared in word processing applications, spreadsheet programs (yes, it can happen) or insufficient graphics applications like Microsoft Publisher, which may be a good design application for small businesses, but hasn't necessarily been designed for high-quality four-color commercial work.
Unacceptable ads are beasts; for your sanity, take it upon yourself to train their creators, moving—even if it's slowly—up the food chain ranking, little by little.
Possible premium charges for unacceptable ads can range between 25 and 75 percent.
The state of affairs
As a publisher, it is your responsibility to educate your advertising base and do whatever is within your means to train them to create better digital advertising for your publication. While the industry moves forward to attain those lofty file standards set by the DDAP, we also need to recognize that for the immediate future, the "bottom feeders" will continue to feast on the smaller publisher. Perhaps armed with a rating system, we can bring some order to the anarchy.
Michael Weinglass is vice president of manufacturing and production for Easy-riders, Agoura Hills, CA.