In recent years, online publishers have transformed the Internet into a richer, more diversified platform offering entertainment, information, communication and other remarkable content that would have been unimaginable only two decades ago. Yet, as rapidly as the Internet has grown as a consumer medium, it has not kept pace as an advertising platform. Considering the number of hours that consumers spend engaged with high-quality online content, the Internet‘s share of advertiser dollars is far lower than it should be.

One of the obstacles we face in attracting additional brand advertising is the Internet’s legacy as a direct response, transactional medium. As a fledgling industry, we convinced advertisers that the Internet was a superior advertising platform because consumers could click on banner ads and buy a product directly. The early income stream from banner ads was essential to the financial health of many pioneering websites. But our success as a transaction-based medium has limited us when it came to attracting brand advertising dollars.

Simply put, many of the world’s largest marketers do not engage in direct response advertising online. Categories such as CPG, Entertainment, Financial Services, Auto and Healthcare do not expect an immediate return on an ad. For many, it’s about brand building – building an overall reputation of the brand and its products and, if successful, contributes to a consumer’s desire to be more loyal to that brand and buy their product the next day, the next week, or even the next year.

Internet publishers have long recognized the challenge of attracting more brand advertising dollars. This is an important consumer issue because without increased revenue sources, publishers cannot continue to improve the consumer experience and increase their yield. But to attract new brand marketers, our industry needs innovative ad formats that drive brand engagement.

Finding New Methods For an Old Game

The IAB created the rising star competition to encourage the industry to create new standard ad units that would be embraced by brand marketers. AOL won 2 of the 6 awards in February 2011– out of 36 total submissions to the competition – and we are hopeful that these two formats will soon be adopted into the standard set of IAB ad units.

The right side of the page (where the ad is located) should be as compelling and rich as the content of the left side of the page (where the editorial content is). New advertising formats accomplish this by making it easy for advertisers to repurpose their existing high-quality brand assets (including video commercials, still photography, etc.) for use in their online advertising campaigns. Major marketers spend millions of dollars a year creating amazing brand content, and premium formats allow them to easily convert this content into their online brand campaigns.

A few weeks ago at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the industry saw results from a six-week study performed in the UK by IPG Media Lab on one of our award-winning formats – the IAB Portrait ad unit. IPG found that IAB Portrait, a 300 X 1050 unit that permits advertisers to use high-quality ads, performed much better against traditional display advertising.

Not surprisingly, more interactive, integrated and visually beautiful ads are more effective than standard ads.

Specifically, the study revealed that interactive, premium content makes people notice advertisements more frequently than static ads, which create “banner blindness.” The interactive units attracted 81 percent more attention than static units. The study also found that consumers spend an average of 47 seconds more with an IAB Portrait ad than they would with industry-standard rich media banners. They also play 24 seconds more of premium video. As such, the results we are seeing mimic the level of activity found on advertiser websites.

In terms of attitudinal results, the IPG study found that the IAB Portrait unit saw improvement at every step of the marketing funnel from dramatically increased awareness to brand appeal to recommending to friends. At the very bottom of the funnel, consumers’ purchase intent after viewing these unit increased by 263 percent.

Of course any advertisement that can compel a consumer to engage with it for more than 47 seconds comes at a premium CPM. Yet chances are that no matter how effectively we do our jobs as advocates for online brand advertising, we will never be able to maximize the value of our inventory as long as we continue to use clicks as our primary metric to gauge the success of a campaign.

There are numerous problems with using clicks as the metric to determine if a brand campaign was successful. Among other issues, the most desirable high-income consumers simply do not click. Further, consumers consistently say they don’t want to be distracted away from the content on the page and they feel that clickable ads take them away from the page. They also feel that these ads are neither engaging nor interesting.

Our challenge as an industry, then, is for publishers to not only begin to adopt and deploy these new premium formats, but for the industry to identify a metric that can replace click-through rates to help define success.

The Internet is still in its early development stage as a communications medium and it will only grow in importance and value in the years ahead. Nevertheless, we are at an important crossroads. If we are to continue to grow, we need to adopt premium advertising formats and develop new metrics that will convince major brand advertisers that online advertising is more effective and engaging as the same ad placed in the traditional off-line media.

Greg Rogers is the co-founder and CEO of Pictela, a division of the AOL Group.