Viewability is looking like yesterday’s problem

Written by Ethan Lubka, director of product management, Turn

Two years ago, when Digiday broached the subject of viewability it noted that advertisers wishing to pay only for ads consumers see was totally reasonable and asked, “Is this seriously an issue?”

The reply was “actually, it is.” Two years later I’d add that it still is, but to a much smaller degree. The key to this is the realization that: (1) 100 percent viewability is incredibly difficult; and, (2) estimations about viewability are accurate enough. As a result, marketers are paying only for ads that are viewed. This is not an exact process, but it’s enough to put the viewability issue to rest.

Viewability is an estimate
There is no mechanism that can assess viewability with complete accuracy. That’s why, in 2014, the Media Rating Council set a standard that seeing 50% of a banner for a full second counts as a view. (For video, it’s two seconds.) As standards go, that works pretty well, though some don’t agree. GroupM, for instance, upped the ante to 100% of a banner.

One thing that makes viewability estimates inexact is that people buy ads before the fact. This is the way most advertising works – you buy an ad based on historical patterns and hope that in this instance the pattern will hold. The good news is, we have enough data at our disposal now to have a good idea not only how an ad will perform, but it’s expected level of viewability. We can bid on impressions and bake in the odds of it being viewable. If we think that it’s very likely that it will be a viewable impression, then we’ll bid more for it.

The better your data, the more likely that you’re providing an accurate viewability estimate. As a result, marketers can pay a fairly low viewable CPM.

At this point, a reader might ask, what about when Google announced it would promise 100% viewability? Advertisers pay 30% extra to get 100% viewability from Google, Peter Longo, CEO of U.S. media at IDG Communications, told Digiday.  That’s not that great a deal. If you buy 1,000 banner ads for $10 and then pay the 30% premium, then you’re paying a $13 vCPM. If you buy 1,000 banner ads for $10 at 77% viewability, then you’re paying $10 for 770 in-view banners, also a $13 vCPM.

And it’s a second-tier metric
It’s understandable that marketers should focus on viewability. No one wants to pay for something that doesn’t work. However, once the numbers are crunched, viewability should be considered a second-tier metric.

A top-tier metric might be brand lift, awareness or the Net Promoter Score. That’s because viewability isn’t in itself a goal. The goal should be some sort or brand metric like brand lift, awareness or Net Promoter Score. Viewability should be a means to the end of improving that metric.

The industry is working things out
After the hubbub over viewability over the last two years, the industry is working on things. Viewability estimates are routinely considered part of ad buys and prices are adjusted accordingly.

As always, the industry is on a search for better ways to assess an ad’s effectiveness. One of the most buzzed-about approaches is the ability to connect ad exposure to retail footfalls and sales. If that becomes mainstream, then viewability will seriously not be an issue.

To find out more about how we see things, check out our content here: The Value of Being Seen – A Guide to Digital Advertising Viewability.

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