Top Four Myths About Online Ad Viewability

More and more attention to digital ad viewability — including efforts to determine exactly where ads appear on the screen and whether anyone ever had a chance to see them —  is generating more and more questions among marketers. The issue is more relevant now than ever, as the Internet Advertising Bureau helps advance replacing our industry currency with a viewability-based metric.

But talk about viewability and everyone tends to get a little nervous: Publishers are concerned about advertisers refusing to pay for low-viewability inventory and advertisers worry that they’re wasting budget on ads that aren’t even being seen. Both fears are valid. Before we can engage in an intelligent conversation as to how viewability can be an asset to certain (note the emphasis) campaigns, I’d like to clear up four common misconceptions:

1. The existing viewability standard makes sense. It doesn’t. When the industry’s joint initiative on measurement defined viewable ads as those that remain at least half in view (half the pixels of the ad, that is) for at least one second, they failed to take into account some key points. First, the amount of time beyond one second improves response rates. Second, small ads are more likely to be able to be half in view than larger ads — but large ads are more likely to be noticeable. And finally, screen sizes vary widely, now more than ever, as smartphone and tablet soars.

The existing viewability standard penalizes advertisers for electing to buy larger ads and publishers for optimizing content for user experience. There are ways to account for these variables, and the IAB and Media Research Council are hard at work to define what those are, but we aren’t there quite yet.

2. Viewability is accurately measurable. There are many different ways to measure viewability, but that’s just the thing: They’re all different (and for now, they’re all proprietary).

Comparing viewability metrics across data providers is like comparing iPads and iMax screens, and until recently, there was no way to measure the viewability of ads served in i-frames (the “container” on a webpage where many ads are served). What’s more, we know how many ads are served, but we guess about viewability. And guessing involves risk: You can’t predict whether someone will scroll down or not to view an ad, and someone has to pay for that risk. For as long as ad impressions served are our industry’s currency, the advertiser is paying for that risk. Shifting to viewability just moves the risk to the publisher. It’s fine for this to be an option for buyers and sellers – to shift the risk – but making viewability as currently envisioned the standard would simply create inefficiency in the system overall, as auditors and new technology vendors enter the picture. Until we have a single metric to apply across the industry, viewability will remain an interesting metric, but it can’t be a currency for our industry.

3. Viewability is the silver bullet we’ve all been waiting for. Viewability is one tool in a vast arsenal of technology and strategic intelligence that today’s lucky marketers have at their disposal. I support giving buyers the choice to deploy a viewability metric or not. But whether it makes sense depends entirely on the objectives of a given campaign.

Using viewability makes no sense, for example, on platforms that allow direct-response marketers to  change their ads on the fly depending on performance. They can’t wait to see whether people are going to scroll down the page. On the other hand, viewability can be a useful surrogate for engagement on brand marketing initiatives.

Viewability can also be misleading. We’ve even seen an inverse relationship between viewability and click-through rates in some instances where a page is so engaging that an ad is viewed but not clicked on. Low click-through rates in this instance don’t necessarily indicate a low viewability ad.

4. Viewability is new. Viewability might be the buzzword of the moment, but any conversation about viewability is ultimately really a conversation about quality and performance: the quality of your campaign, your ad, your strategy, your interaction with consumers. Can viewability help certain marketers enhance the quality of that interaction? Sure. But it’s only one piece of a puzzle that’s bigger, more complex and, thankfully, more exciting than ever.