What if you made a display ad that nobody could see? This is a question marketers of all stripes struggle with on a daily basis. It’s also an issue that the industry is fighting, with the IAB leading the charge for the eventual goal of 100% viewabilty somewhere in an ill-defined future. That this is possible remains to be seen.
In the meantime, many marketers consider viewability to be a key metric in measuring their digital ad programs. This is a mistake. Ad viewability is one metric, not the only metric.
The Definition of Ad Viewability
According to the Media Ratings Council (MRC) a display ad is viewable if 50% of its pixels are in view for 1 second. For a video ad, the council stipulates that 50% of its pixels be in view for 2 seconds.
Truth be told, your ad is not going to be 100% viewable every time it loads. The IAB has said, given current technology “…it is unreasonable for advertisers, agencies, and publishers implementing viewable impressions as measurement currency to expect to observe viewable rates of 100%.”
Don’t Get to Caught Up in Viewability
Over on MediaPost, Scott Knoll points out that a hyper-focus on viewability threatens to turn the metric into the next click-through rate. “Like a click,” he writes, “an ad that is confirmed to be in the viewing window of a user’s screen is just a rough proxy for success.” Viewability is an important metric, but optimizing around it could lead to unsatisfactory results.
A recent study by IPG Media Lab found that in some cases, ad viewability as defined by the IAB had little or no impact on ad recall whether the ad met the 50% standard or fell short of it. The study concludes that “viewability is important, but is not the end-all-be-all. It isn’t a KPI.”
What Price Ad Viewability?
If 100% viewability is your goal, and you’re not considering context, your ad may end up displaying on clickbait sites, or in categories such as adult content and gaming which have exceptionally high viewability rates. What’s more, some sites maximize ad viewabiilty with customer-irritating roadblocks or pop-ups. You’ll get your viewable impressions, but at what cost?
These aren’t the Views You’re Looking For
In the same way that CTR spawned click fraud, viewability has birthed viewable impression fraud. Bots view ads far more frequently than humans do, jacking up ad views. The bots are more difficult to detect than those for click fraud. However, the best ad vendors can detect campaign abnormalities with a combination of good science and attentive campaign management.
Quality and Viewability
While the MRC standards are a good benchmark, Knoll goes on to make the case for quality. “Without this distinction,” he writes, “the media buyer will be thoroughly gamed or end up purchasing highly viewed media that is very low quality or even unsafe.”
Elements to consider beyond the standard viewability metrics include the size of the ad relative to the viewing window, other images simultaneously in view, and the relevance of the content.
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