The Ad Viewability Debate Rages On

5 Jan

ad viewabilityThere has been much discussion in the wake of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) mid-December release of their proposed “standard” for the measurement of digital media delivery in 2015. 

Advertisers, agencies and publishers should celebrate the progress being made and the healthy nature of the dialog now occurring between each of the participating stakeholders in this important sector of the global advertising marketplace. Having said that, the pace of change and the level of investment being made by the three major industry associations whose members have the most at stake has been disappointingly slow. 

By way of background the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) and the IAB formed the Measurement Makes Sense (3MS) task force in 2011 with the goal of “fixing digital measurement.” According to the IAB, the three industry groups have spent $6 million collectively in pursuit of this goal.  

Not to diminish either the effort or the investment, during this same time frame digital spending has increased from $86.6 billion in 2011 to an estimated $142.0 billion in 2014, up 17.2% year-over-year, is forecast to represent 30% of global ad expenditures in 2015 and will likely eclipse TV spending by 2017. Which in this author’s humble opinion supports the observation that the industry has simply not done enough to remedy the limitations that exist when it comes to validating digital media delivery. 

On the surface, many were surprised at the progressive stance taken by the IAB in suggesting that the industry adapt a “70% viewability threshold” for measured impressions in 2015. The question others are asking is, “Progressive relative to what?” The IAB suggested that up until its proposed 2015 transitional guidelines that the “industry standard” was a definition of viewablility issued by the Media Ratings Council (MRC). The MRC’s definition considered a desktop display ad to be viewable if 50% of the ad’s pixels were in view for at least one second and two seconds for desktop video ads.  

It should be noted that the MRC’s definition, which was introduced in the spring of 2014, was never adopted by the advertising industry as a standard to guide publisher/ advertiser negotiations. Thus, it was no surprise when the 4A’s immediately issued an opinion to its membership to reject the IAB’s online viewability guidelines. According to one industry executive, Todd Gordon, EVP of Magna Global, a leading media planning and buying agency, “Running a campaign and paying for 30% of the ads not being viewable isn’t acceptable to us or our clients.” 

In the press release announcing their proposed 2015 guidelines, the IAB trumpeted the “shift from a served impression to a viewable impression” as “yet another step to greater accountability in digital media.” So it was something of a surprise and contradiction to learn that the first of their seven proposed “2015 Transaction Principles” suggested that “all billing continue to be based on the number of served impressions during a campaign.” Additionally, the proposed guidelines segregate served impressions into two categories, measured and non-measured, with the 70% viewability guideline applying only to measured impressions. Understandably, advertisers might view this as something of a disconnect as it relates to the transition to a viewable impression standard. 

We understand that digital campaign viewability measurement is a challenging proposition due to variances in the types of ad units being utilized and the different audience delivery measurement methodologies in use today. However, the IAB’s proposed guidelines continue to place the lion’s share of the financial burden for these shortcomings square on the backs of the advertiser community. Given that the composition of the IAB’s membership is largely made up of publishers, which have benefitted tremendously from the dramatic growth in digital media revenues, we believe that the 4As was right to reject the IAB’s proposed guidelines, with the goal of pushing for a more balanced standard, with more aggressive viewable impression delivery guarantees. 

And while continued dialog between the ANA, 4As and IAB on this topic is encouraging, we know from experience how long and arduous a journey toward an industry “standard” can be. It is for this reason, that we applaud the efforts of those advertisers and their agencies that have taken matters into their own hands and begun to eschew digital ad inventory of questionable value or with limited delivery guarantees. It has been reported that advertisers such as Kraft, for example, have “rejected up to 85%” of the digital ad inventory offered to them.  

Historically, we know that when advertisers self-police their ad investments, audit contract compliance and supplier performance and withhold ad dollars where appropriate, agencies and publishers will begin to take the notion of transformative change as it relates to digital media much more seriously. As Kevin Scholl, Digital Marketing Director at Red Roof Inn aptly stated in a recent Adweek interview on the viewability issue, “If we were buying in spaces with lame guarantees, we had to question continue buying there – or evolve how were buying.” 

Let us know your thoughts on this important issue by emailing Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

 

 

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