NEW YORK: FMCG group Unilever has raised the bar for what constitutes viewability in online advertising and in doing so has potentially set back an emerging industry consensus on this issue.

Earlier this year the Media Ratings Council published its Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines, which spelled out specific parameters for how viewable impressions should be measured. These included a requirement that "50% of pixels must be in the viewable portion of an internet browser for a minimum of one continuous second to qualify as a viewable display impression". For video, 50% must be in view for at least two seconds.

Unilever, however, requires that 100% of an ad must be viewable in a browser, although it does not specify for how long. And for video, not only must 100% of the player be in view, a person must click to start it rather than having it play automatically, and then they must play at least half the ad with the sound on.

Rob Master, vp/media for the Americas at Unilever, told Advertising Age that "there's a huge opportunity to bring greater rigour and accountability where so much more money is flowing".

For Ari Bluman, chief digital investment officer at GroupM, which handles Unilever's media buying through its Mindshare agency, this was a straightforward, commonsense approach. "What we're asking for is that we no longer want to buy ads that are not viewed by human beings," he said.

But some within the industry expressed disappointment at this breaking of ranks. Sherrill Mane of the IAB noted that both Unilever and GroupM had been involved in the Making Measurement Make Sense initiative that brought together agencies and advertisers in a search for clear metrics.

"It's really a shame," she said, "because you want to start somewhere and build, not say 'We did this hard work but I don't care, we're going to take the standard where we want'."

She also worried that the higher standards could adversely affect smaller publishers who might now need to pay two MRC-accredited vendors to get two different viewership measurements.

Recently Vivek Shah, chair of the IAB, highlighted some of theĀ ongoing problems around viewability, not least the "very cost-prohibitive viewability-vendor landscape".

Data sourced from Advertising Age; additional content by Warc staff