Viewability or fraud: Marketers are split on which is the bigger issue

Speaking in a dimly lit Hilton conference room in central London at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers annual conference on Wednesday afternoon, marketers hammered home the importance of viewability.

“One of the ways we can evolve is to ensure that we only work with vendors who work with our standards of viewability,” said Unilever UK marketing and digital director Alex Tait, whose comments were immediately followed by a graphic from an in-room poll that showed more than 70 percent of the marketers in attendance believed that ads should be traded on viewability.

Although industry groups have made a big push to emphasize viewability, some executives claim that viewability isn’t as big a problem as it is made out to be. One executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, called the industry’s focus on viewability “a red herring that fails to address the pervasiveness of fraudulent traffic.”

However, others see the lack of viewable ads as one of the biggest problems in the digital ad supply chain. These issues aren’t dichotomous, but because there is disagreement about which one creates more problems in the digital advertising environment, Digiday asked some advertisers what they see as a bigger scourge: whether an ad is in view on a browser or app, or whether an ad is actually being served to a human.

Answers are edited for length and clarity.

Neil McKinnon, head of marketing at Infectious Media
Fraud is actually a different beast, because somebody is trying to deceive us. Ad fraud is difficult to put a figure on, but it is a bigger issue because the people doing it are taking money out of the industry.

Jonathan Barnard, head of forecasting at Zenith
Anything that prevents ads being viewed by humans wastes advertisers’ money. In terms of numbers, viewability issues are probably a bigger problem than bot fraud, but they both need to be tackled with urgency. … More human views are probably lost to ads being non-viewable than being served to bots.

Simon Law, chief strategy officer at Possible
The bigger issue is that digital once promised total visibility of reach and interaction. In reality, the majority of metrics are still focused on impressions, and yet, that fails on so many levels … While we debate the relative fears of below-the-fold ads versus non-human views, we’re avoiding the bigger issue of how we implement metrics that really have value.

Nick Maddison, business development and client service at the7stars
From what I hear robots will be as important as humans. So my choice needs to be “ad being in view” is more important.

Sharon Browne, CMO for Havas Media Group UK and Ireland
Whether an ad is served to a human is more concerning [than its viewability within a browser or app]. But of course, it is never that clear cut. I would want my ads served in view to humans. Sort the first out and the second will be an inevitable outcome of meeting human needs.

Andrew Shebbeare, chief product officer at Essence
In the moment, it doesn’t matter whether your ad is missed because it was shown to a bot or served below the fold. If it is unseen by human eyes, it has no shot at influencing human minds. However, when it comes to optimizing programmatic strategy, human traffic filters should come before viewability goals or other measures of relative impression quality.

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