Media buyers are getting ripped off, but guaranteed viewability is here to help

This article was written by Martin Stockfleth Larsen, Chief Marketing Officer, Adform

At its peak, Life printed 13.5 million copies and reached more American households than any other weekly magazine. If you were selling instant coffee, condensed milk and filtered cigarettes in the 1950s, there was no better place to advertise.

Yet, at no point would Life’s sales team have guaranteed Maxwell House’s media buyer that 13.5 million Americans would clip their coupons. Nor would Maxwell House have expected it. Traditionally, publishers and marketers have relied on good-faith efforts to connect eyeballs and ads.

For better and worse, this simple analog world is gone. Today, viewability is a hot-button issue for both buyers and sellers, and guarantees are increasingly on the table.

Welcome to the new point of view

For most of digital marketing’s relatively short history, viewability was never an issue. In fact, it didn’t even exist: Limited by technology, we only recorded impressions, clicks, sessions and uniques. As technology advanced, and adtech providers developed their own proprietary code to measure more behavior, it was possible to know exactly when an ad was appearing on the user’s screen.

People started asking questions — and they didn’t like the answers.

According to Comscore, 54 percent of all digital advertising is never seen by the end user. Our own research from Q4, 2014 in the U.S. and Europe shows viewability ranging from 48 percent (France) to to 55 percent (U.S.) to 64 percent (Norway),. This is a serious problem. Would you buy a car that started less than half of the time?

In 2014, working within the IAB’s Making Measurement Make Sense initiative (3MS), the Media Rating Council introduced a standard for viewability: 50 percent of an ad’s pixels must appear on screen for at least one second, after rendering. For video, the standard is 50 percent in view for a minimum of two seconds.

This is just the first step. Next, brands must demand guaranteed viewability, and publishers must agree to deliver.

Premium prices for all inventory

At first glance, it seems that publishers have the most to lose. That’s not actually the case. When the end goal is to increase in-view engagement and reduce ad fraud, all parties benefit.

The push for viewability is actually an opportunity for publishers to shake off the stigma of below-the-fold and remnant space. Both terms suggest a sludge pile of inferior ad content and inferior eyeballs. But now, inventory once considered non-premium can now enjoy higher CPMs — as long as it’s guaranteed to be viewed.

Those publishers who get on board with guaranteed viewability can compete for brand dollars once available only to the bigger players who promise millions of impressions and proven engagement. Smaller publishers can guarantee highly defined readerships to those brands seeking that specific audience. Their larger counterparts, meanwhile, can distinguish themselves from long-tail remnant publishers by adding quality labels on their inventory.

It won’t be a painless transition. As John McDermott reported for Digiday in February, many publishers will be forced to redesign their websites and apps to increase viewability and accommodate new measurements.

But there are only so many seats on the premium ride, and the first publishers to offer guaranteed viewability will get the golden tickets. Those who don’t will leave money on the table — and risk eroding the trust between themselves and their buyers.

The pressure goes both ways

Publishers aren’t alone in feeling the pain. The move toward guaranteed viewability is a double-edged sword for marketers.

On the one hand, buyers can make greater demands on publishers competing for their share of the spend. Indeed, according to AdAge, viewability is already showing up on RFPs.

On the other hand, a certain accountability now returns to marketers. If your ads aren’t engaging with your intended audience — and you know for a fact they’ve been seen — there’s no more blaming the DSP.

The end goal is to create a brand-friendly programmatic environment, where premium inventory is sold at a fair price — and buyers get what they pay for. If we can eliminate the viewability “blame game” along the way, that’s just an added benefit.

Step into the new viewable reality

For too long, our industry has been plagued by lost engagement opportunities due to unviewable ads. Even worse, viewability-based fraud has run rampant in many parts of the business, with both buyers and sellers getting ripped off. How else would you describe paying money for goods that aren’t delivered?

Now that it’s possible to guarantee viewability, digital marketers must prepare for a new world. At Adform, we’re proud to be the first global, media-agnostic DSP to offer guarantees on programmatic display for brand campaigns.

The pressure is officially on, and there’s no turning back. If display advertising is to remain agile, scalable, targetable and trustworthy, the industry must embrace this.

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