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Viewability: Could it change the way we buy media?

Traditionally, ad-serving technologies counted online display impressions every time a unit loaded on a website, regardless of whether this advertisement was actually seen by the user.  In many cases, the ad would run below the fold or in the footer of the website and would still be counted as a served impression. Does a video played on mute qualify as a valid view? Does an ad unit have to be on a user’s screen for longer than a few seconds to be considered as ‘viewed’, and if so, for how long? Are there standards or guidelines we can look to for answers? Not yet, but luckily, they are on their way. A recent study by ComScore concluded that up to 54% of display ads are never seen by an advertiser’s audience. The issue of ad viewability has become a hot topic and could potentially change the way we buy media.

The display landscape is changing

Research conducted by Sizmek demonstrated how extensive the issue of ad viewability is. Close to $25 billion of global online ad spend stands to be wasted due to this simple but pressing issue.

Ad viewability has always handicapped marketers hoping to quantify and substantiate the online investments of advertisers. Different proprietary solutions have led to confusion and make any comparison impossible. Many industry leaders demand that viewability requires accreditation and a universal standard. The methodologies need to be verified by a third party in order for brands to trade media budget on viewability.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has proposed a standard that qualifies a view when 50% of an ad appears on a screen for 1 second or longer. Google is amongst the first players to adhere to this standard (they call their viewability product ‘Active View’). Most large vendors and publishers have signed up to such viewability standards and are now accredited by the Media Rating Council. As more credible vendors promote this concept, viewability will become a part of our industry’s common dialect and will shape the way data is interpreted.

What this means for advertisers

Viewability has the potential to change the way online advertising is transacted. Vendors have started to work closely with agencies to incorporate viewability into campaign measurement. Now, a conversion credit on a post-view basis will not be attributed to an ad unit that was never viewed. For both direct response and branding activity, marketers will have new insights and will obtain more accurate conversion-oriented results. What will be more interesting to see is how people consume data and interact with the content.

As less wasteful ad impressions are served, potential budget savings may be achieved, and ultimately less conversion overlap. Although the price for viewable impressions may increase with increased demand, the larger outcome will weigh out this cost inflation.

From a design perspective, viewability will probably push publishers to re-organize their ad slots to the top of the page, which could adversely affect user experience. In the long-run, we can expect to see newer placements and better quality content laid uniformly across sites.

Although the changes won’t be abrupt, they will definitely alter the fundamentals of display media buying. As a marketer, it’s important to stay on top of these changes. Be in touch with your agency and stay informed of the updates. Get your operations in order and ensure that your team have the tools and content necessary to sell based on viewability. Most importantly, get ready for an advancement in digital advertising that will take it to new fronts. You must be prepared to take action and make the most of all insights derived from this change. The results will only improve the effectiveness of your advertising capabilities.