Until Now, There Was No Real Way To Know Who Saw Your Ad, Or If It Worked

hear no evil, friends, see no evil,

Photo: Flickr / C. Pajunen

There is a great debate raging in the industry right now around “viewability metrics”.  The thinking is that there needs to be a better standard than the 10 year old definition of an ad impression. The IAB has long defined an ad impression as “a measurement of responses from an ad delivery system to an ad request from the user’s browser, which is filtered from robotic activity and is recorded at a point as late as possible in the process of delivery of the creative material to the user’s browser — therefore closest to actual opportunity to see by the user”.   

Leading this charge for new metrics are companies like ComScore, Google and a handful of smaller startups in the ad verification space.  Each of these companies are looking to set the new standard for ad measurement, convince the IAB and other industry bodies (like the 4As and ANA) to appoint their new standards as the new official measure of digital display advertising.  It appears to me that ComScore is pushing to be the Nielsen of Digital and Google, well simply, they want their tentacles in everything digital. 

While I support progress around better brand metrics, there are a few challenges with the approach these companies are taking in setting new measurement standards.  Most are focused only on a single metric: “in view” (or as many describe it: “above the fold”) meaning the ad is visible to the consumer when the page is loaded.   For brand-oriented advertisers, ensuring that your ad is seen by the consumer when it is counted as an impression is obviously important.  However, there are many other factors that should be considering before we charge ahead and adopt a new standard for measurement that will no doubt send ripples throughout the entire industry.

 Here are a few other measurement standards I think should be considered: 

  • View Time:  When considering if an ad is in view or not, we should focus more on the amount of time the ad is exposed to a consumer.  The current working theory is that if an ad is present on the page for more than 1 second it is a viable impression.   For example, if there are two placements on the page, one at the top that has a one second view time (due to immediate scrolling to get to content) and a second ad that is half way down the page but has, on average, an 11 second view time,  which would you rather purchase as an advertiser? 
  • Size Does Matter:  When considering buying ads that are in view the next thing to consider is the size of the ad.  If I’m an advertiser, am I willing to spend the same amount of money for a placement that is one-fifth the size of another?  I can buy a 970×480 push down (a very big ad!) at the top of the page or I can buy a tiny 120×60 logo placement just under the masthead. Both meet the “in view” criteria, but they will carry very different rates.  
  • Interactions: Once you are comfortable with the size and placement of the ad units, the next critical point to evaluate is interaction rate.  As a marketer, you will want to buy placements that not only have high view times but also those with above average interaction rates.   This requirement could vary depending on the creative execution and goals of the campaign, but most high-level creative engagement is net positive for brand recognition, brand consideration and overall performance metrics.   
  • Brand Safety: Another consideration is the context of the ad placement.  Evaluating and understanding the quality of inventory for the brand is of critical importance.   Buyers need to feel very comfortable that their message doesn’t appear in or around objectionable or illegal content.  Especially given the recent announcement made at last week’s IACC conference in DC: http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/ad-industry-takes-major-step-fight-online-piracy-140014.
  • View Time vs. Viewability:  One fuzzy part of this proposed new metric involves code that is appended the creative to take measurements: if it is delivered within unfriendly iframes, like those encountered on exchanges, it is nearly impossible for the company to report accurately on whether the ad is in view or not.   It would be better to use a measurement like MOAT (www.moat.com) and other companies are using, which can still report on view time and also interactions, which provides a proxy for viewability. 

 As media buyers and sellers it is unsettling to have another set of metrics to consider and add to the ever growing data set we must sift through and make sense of. 

However, on the other hand, by aggregating this data at the placement and campaign levels, you gain a lot of knowledge.  Not only do get a very good sense of which placements you should be buying, but this data can be further segmented by site, brand, category and/or objective thereby providing further insight into your best and worst performing placements, giving guidance on rate card (pricing) adjustments and helping to streamline your pages to give consumers the best experience possible across advertising and editorial.

Is the change worth it?  What other metrics should be included in this formula to ensure every placement you buy or sell is of appropriate value for you?     

The views expressed here reflect the views of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 24/7 Media, its affiliates, subsidiaries or its parent company, WPP plc.


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