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What a tougher 100% digital ad viewability standard would mean

Opinion, 25 August 2017
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If a person makes a purchase after viewing 50% of an ad, and another person does not make a purchase after viewing 100% of an ad, which is more valuable to a brand? Asks Conversant’s Rachael Churchill.

It’s an important question for our industry to consider, particularly after the Media Ratings Council said it may consider changing its standard for what counts as a “viewable” ad. Currently, if a minimum of half of the pixels in a digital ad are displayed for at least one second, it counts as a view. However, the MRC said it would consider raising the standard to require that 100% of the pixels be displayed for it to count as a viewed ad.

“Viewability” has emerged as one of the industry’s biggest buzzwords in recent years, and for good reason: marketers are becoming increasingly frustrated that they’re paying for ad impressions nobody ever sees. The rise of fake traffic and views driven by bots and a lack of transparency into where marketers’ ad dollars are going have culminated in an urgency for quality impressions, better performance and less waste. Procter & Gamble even went so far as to cut $100 million to $140 million in digital advertising spend last quarter due to concerns over ineffective ads. It’s important to note the difference between guaranteeing an ad will be seen by real people (which is typically referred to as “viewability”) and how the industry measures a view, which is what the MRC is considering.

At first glance, a 100% standard seems great, but if the metric isn’t applied carefully, it can actually discredit some of marketers’ advertising spend by creating a false sense of efficiency. It comes with implications that the industry can’t afford to overlook:

Efficacy and Metrics. Consumer attention does not always equate ad effectiveness. Just as some ads with 100% of pixels in view may not be internalised, there are bound to be ads with viewable pixels somewhere between 50% and 100% that impact other KPIs – the industry just doesn’t have the metrics yet to validate it. Until then, we shouldn’t count them out. Prioritising viewability metrics puts marketers at risk because it highlights only the measurement against the ad and does not account for other factors, like who the ad was delivered to. This can create an illusion that digital advertising is performing well, when it may not be reaching the right individuals who are likely to convert. We can’t forget marketers’ ultimate goal – driving sales and awareness.

Inventory and Pricing. If only ads with 100% of pixels measured in view were considered viewable, advertisers could face increased competition and difficulty securing the limited supply of viewable media. This would significantly drive up the cost of inventory and reduce marketers’ opportunities to message an individual consumer. One might argue that fewer ads is a win for the user experience, but can advertisers support the impact on overall media costs?

I’m pleased to see the industry taking steps to ensure we have standards that reflect modern digital advertising and align aspects of the business that have grown quickly without much regulation. But are we really going to say that an ad with 90% of the pixels in view for 1 second and resulted in a conversion wasn’t valuable or legitimate? I don’t think so. Until we can determine the true impact of ads with 100% of pixels in the 100% viewable range, it’s not worth limiting marketers’ ability to message their customers. Instead, we can work directly with publishers to increase viewability and get feedback on specific placements, all while making sure we focus on delivering against all advertisers’ goals, not just one metric.

While viewability is important, we need to remember what drove the need to measure it in the first place: ad fraud and cookie bombing for last touch attribution. And that’s where we should continue to apply it.

About the author

Rachael Churchill is Vice President of Quality and Operations at Conversant

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