Steve Dempsey: Time for review of how digital advertising industry defines viewability and measures it
When you buy a TV, print or outdoor ad you have a clear sense of how many consumers were going to see your ad, and - if your media planning was up to scratch - how many of those would be your target audience.
But this ain't the case online. Sure digital advertisers can talk a good talk in relation to targeting, but they have some fundamental problems when it comes to audience measurement.
First there's ad fraud, which accounts for 20pc to 50pc of all digital ad spend, depending on which research you believe. That means anywhere between a fifth and a half of all money spent on advertising is spent on fake ad impressions - bots not eyeballs. And then there's the tricky definition of what counts as a viewable ad. The accepted standard for the viewability of an online ad was cooked up in 2014 by the MRC (Media Ratings Council) and the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), who decided that more than 50pc of the pixels in the ad need to be onscreen for more than one second after the ad was rendered. If half an ad appears onscreen for half an instant, you're paying full whack. It's not a great metric. Why? Because it inflates the amount of available inventory and further commoditises digital ad impressions. This suits no one, except of course, for the biggest digital platforms.
But the internet has moved on a lot since 2014. Digital advertising in particular has evolved. So maybe viewability needs to evolve too. In recent weeks, WPP's GroupM has updated its definition of video viewability. It had previously insisted that video ads should be user initiated, be unmuted, and be at least half watched while fully onscreen. But the company, which handles over 32pc of the world's media billings, is now softening its stance. Social video ads are still required to stay entirely onscreen, but GroupM will now count auto playing and muted videos as viewable.
There's a pragmatic rationale. Advertisers now assume that their videos will be viewed without sound and user initiation, and the creative execution now typically takes this into consideration. But there's a cynical response. Instead of insisting that social channels make their video products more impactful, GroupM - the world's largest media buyer in terms of billings - is rolling over and accepting even weaker standards.
Of course, viewability standards on social channels have been an issue for some time. Earlier this year, AdNews reported that the viewability scores for Facebook were as low as 2pc when compared to TV on a like for like basis. Facebook would no doubt counter that its vast reach and the ability to target consumers with particular interests and attributes make metrics like viewability less important. And Facebook, which has monetised the 'Like' knows a thing or two about unimportant metrics. The only measurement that really matters is whether an ad campaign drives sales, sign-ups, or whatever the desired business outcome. And any agency that's spending clients' money should be focused on the bottom line over ropey marketing metrics. And that's the problem with viewability. It measures the opportunity for an ad to be seen, not whether it's been seen. And certainly not whether it's any good.
So it's time digital advertising agreed on some better metrics - especially now that Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and others are getting serious about creating and distributing original video content.
The good news is that the MRC, which you'll remember, was responsible for the original viewability standards is reported to be working on a new audience measurement metrics that it hopes will become the single standard for video measurement and ad buying. The bad news is that their new approach still relies on an element of viewability. The duration-weighted metric will be calculated by combining impressions that are viewed for at least two consecutive seconds with the duration of those verified views.
But others are more expansive in their approach. Earlier this year ad analytics firm Moat (which was snapped up by Oracle for an undisclosed sum) proposed a less binary and more nuanced measure of viewability for video. Moat's ranking factors in the amount of the ad that was viewed, whether it was muted, and how much of the screen the ad occupied.
The result is a ranking from 0 to 100 which can be applied to individual ad units, entire campaigns or particular websites where clients are thinking of running ads. Moat's video score is less about minimal standards that need to be met, and more about providing a ranking for overall effectiveness.
Sunday Indo Business