Prior to making a purchase online, the chances are you will have been exposed to some form of advertising from that brand – consciously or subconsciously – at some point during the customer journey. At least that is the belief of digital marketers who are increasingly having to rely on traditional viewability metrics as a method of proving their ads' success.

Most publishers and advertising agencies have already adopted vCPM (cost per thousand viewable impressions) as a predominant metric for brand campaigns, and recent research reveals an industry majority believe that all brand ads will be secured on a vCPM basis within the next 18 months. Meanwhile, publishing giants Google and Facebook have added to the pressure with their recent promises of 100% viewability.

But the adoption of vCPM is only the tip of the iceberg, and relying on this method will create several obstacles for marketers and creative agencies who drive customer engagement through the delivery of high-impact ads.

The first problem in benchmarking performance of brand campaigns is that non-standard ad formats, such as home-page takeovers, skins, content-rich native ads, and videos, cannot always be measured accurately using current viewability standards. The second problem is that the fragmented nature of the ad tech market means there is still no clear definition of viewability.

So, with the industry fixed on the notion that ads must at the very least be in view to stand a chance of influencing a consumer's decision to purchase, how can marketers overcome the viewability challenge without compromising on creativity?

Driving change in viewability standards

The current approach to viewability measurement means that high-impact ad units are not sufficiently viewable compared with standard display units, which inevitably deters marketers from using these types of ads. The irony is that high-impact ads – including wallpaper formats that dominate a webpage and that are by nature viewable formats as they stand at the top of page – have been proven to deliver the best results in terms of brand campaign performance metrics such as recall, engagement, lift, exposure and dwell time. Therefore, these are all KPIs which should be considered alongside cut-and-dried viewability criteria. Relying solely on traditional methods of evaluation poses a real threat to creative agencies who excel in delivering immersive high-impact ads, and marketers need to start encouraging publishers – as well as ad tech providers – to revise their guidelines to include all ad formats in the viewability equation.

It is a pivotal time for the industry as agencies expect to see viewability levels of at least 70%, despite one in four believing the current IAB standards only function at a basic level. In addition, the rise in adoption of vCPM is instilling fear in publishers who are focusing so heavily on reaching their targets that they are preventing brands from executing more innovative campaigns – which ultimately results in a diminished user experience. Now is the time for marketers stand firm and persuade publishers to embrace non-standard ad formats, before brand innovation is hampered forever.

Widening the definition of viewable content

Demanding viewability levels of at least 70% is all well and good, but it is worth considering the value of the content that is actually viewed. For example, even if only 50% of an ad is in view for one second or 30% for larger formats (the minimum amount to qualify as a 'viewable impression' according to the IAB-MRC guidelines), the consumer may be seeing the most valuable (i.e. most impactful) – or equally the least valuable – part of an ad. Therefore, it is vital that publishers take this data into account when measuring the success of a campaign. By assigning a value to the individual creative elements of an ad that are in view at any given time – such as brand logos or strap lines – immersive ads stand a much better chance of being accepted by the industry and achieving real resonance with consumers. Fortunately, new viewability metrics are emerging to make this a possibility.

It is also important to consider the time needed for users to understand the messaging in an ad. As Americo Campos Silva, Global Media Manager, Shell International Petroleum Company highlighted "The IAB guidelines state that an ad must be be seen for one second, but clearly this is not enough. For us, we want to be seen for at least five seconds to enhance viewability metrics and make sure that formats are really viewable. The longer an ad is viewable, the more chance it has to resonate within the audience and create brand engagement."

Transparency around viewability is also becoming a priority, and some brands are already proclaiming the need for a more unified approach to measurement. As P&G's CMO Marc Pritchard recently commented, the company "will no longer tolerate the ridiculous complexity of different viewability standards," and suppliers need to comply with the rules.

One of the reasons the industry has remained so fragmented for so long is due to the cost involved in building a more sophisticated framework for the measurement of viewability. If marketers can demonstrate they are starting to use their own metrics to prove the impact of more creative ad formats, this will also put pressure on publishers to acknowledge the potential value of all ad formats, and eventually, invest in new measurement technology which will completely reshape and revolutionise the ad landscape.

As viewability becomes the dominant force in the measurement of campaign success, marketers, agencies, and publishers need to work together to ensure that all ad formats can be measured collectively. If marketers can begin to encourage publishers to see the bigger picture – that campaigns should be measured against brand metrics as well as viewability metrics – then creative, rich-media formats will at last achieve the recognition they deserve.

By revising our approach to viewability as an industry, we can allow creativity and brand innovation to flourish once more – enabling publishers to achieve their targets, and brands to reach higher levels of engagement with their customers than ever before.