Viewability Standards: The Great Display Debate
In July, a coalition of advertising boards met to discuss how online advertising measurements can be improved. The coalition, dubbed 3MS (Making Measurement Make Sense) was headed by industry associations IAB, ANA and AAAA. The goal of 3MS is to make the process of digital media planning more transparent, better defined, and easier to asses for both advertisers and publishers. The first step of 3MS plan for change is to shift from a served to a viewable standard measuring online ad impressions.
What Is Viewability?
3MS has defined viewability as 50% of an ads pixels being visible on a web page for more than one second. This definition has been rapidly evolving since the discussion began. So rapidly, in fact, thats already been changed twice. Almost immediately, web measuring firms such as comScore and C3 Metrics took the newest standard and applied it to their data. Unsurprisingly, their data came back with a disheartening margin of error. C3 Metrics found that within the parameters of the new standards, an overwhelming majority of ads on major networks never appear. ComScores data returned such radically different results that one is obliged to take both with a grain of salt.
Where Did Viewability Come From?
There is an extremely important question that must be asked of 3MS: What brought them to the 50% and one second standard in the first place? Was it taken from traditional advertising mediums such as print, or billboards? If you see 50% of a billboard for one second will it register with you? The answer is that we dont know for sure. It was based on a hypothesis, tested, and agreed upon and with some data to back it up. While it may be a rudimentary indicator of whether or not an ad is viewed, a marketer must seriously consider whether having an arbitrary standard is better than having no standard at all.
Viewability is not a new topic. Since the birth of the digital advertising industry in Web 1.0, marketers have used proxies to measure viewability. The ubiquitous above-the-fold placement is the most popular proxy because its assumed that a visitor is more likely to see an ad if they dont have to scroll down the page to do so. This is not to say that below-the-fold ads are necessarily un-viewable. Take the launch of the long awaited iPhone 5. The content below the fold in any article even mentioning the new device is not only relevant, but downright captivating to the netizens reading it. So should advertising space below the fold in this article be pricier? Above the fold is a decent measure for viewability, but it is not perfect.
A Common Misconception
Many supporters of the 3MS standards cite their expected effects on industry pricing structures as a reason to switch now. CPM models of old will make way for cost per viewed impression models, where you only pay for the ads people actually saw. This is a very exciting step in the evolution of the industry, but be warned: this does not make your campaign performance-based. Paying only for the ads that get seen doesnt mean they will be clicked, and it certainly doesnt mean that the clicks will get you conversions. To achieve more conversions you must optimize your ads, not just their placement.
A Stark Reality
Smart marketers are constantly monitoring digital campaigns and calculating their ROI. They are constantly downloading, checking and rechecking reports from their digital ad providers. They see if theyre making money or if theyre not. If your digital advertising campaign is unsuccessful, then it’s more than one problem that is leading to this lack of success. Your products may be too expensive, or your ads too vague. The assurance that your ads are being seen is not necessarily an indicator that a campaign will be successful.
A Bright Future
The standard set by 3MS is a good, yet unfinished start. As with any idea, it is inevitable that this one will continue to mature until we have quantifiable, actionable set of standards for viewability. The digital advertising industry has and will always be data driven. What data do you think is important to viewability? How will viewability standards affect your future campaigns? In the infancy of this new standard, it’s important to keep an open mind and observe all angles.