hfa Insights, News & Awards


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Is Anyone Seeing Your Ads?

If you're in the digital media business, then you're probably aware of the countless discussions happening in the industry with regard to ad viewability measurement. No? Then let's take a step back to recap what viewability is and why these discussions were initiated.

What's the Background?

Back in 2011, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) came together to form the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative. 3MS was designed to encourage collaboration and consensus on media measurement, and one of the first key issues addressed was viewability measurement.

Numerous studies have shown that the percentage of served ad impressions that are actually in-view to users can be as low as 30% (especially when running through ad exchanges). In response, the industry has started to shift toward a viewable impression model, thanks in large part to the efforts of 3MS. A viewable impression is defined by the Media Ratings Council (MRC) as an ad impression that is at least 50% in-view to the user for a minimum of 1 second for display ads and 2 seconds for video ads. For larger ad units, the viewable space requirement is 30%.

What's Happening Now?

Today, it seems like a no-brainer that the viewability goal for all digital advertising should be 100%. The problem is that—in spite of the great strides made by 3MS and other industry leaders—there are still technical challenges that prevent us from reaching this threshold. In late 2014, the IAB released the State of Viewability Transaction 2015, which quotes the MRC as saying that "100% viewability is currently unreasonable, because different ad units, browsers, ad placements, vendors, and measurement methodologies yield wildly different viewability numbers." Essentially, the technology that is capable of measuring viewability hasn't quite been perfected yet.

As advertiser demand for guaranteed viewability increases, media publishers have had little choice but to boost the cost-per-thousand (CPM) for their viewable inventory. If you're an advertiser, you may need to consider whether that higher CPM is justified based on your marketing and media goals (for example, a higher CPM might encumber your ability to achieve a specific ROI target, and therefore wouldn't be a fit for that particular campaign).

In the State of Viewability Transaction 2015, the IAB recommended seven transaction principles aligning with the progression of viewability measurement. One of these principles states that it is realistic to expect that measured impressions will achieve 70% viewability (at least for now), and that publishers should make good with additional viewable impressions if that threshold is not met.

What Should You Do About It?

  • Consider the industry recommendations. Use the IAB's 70% viewability target and the other transaction principles for your digital marketing efforts where applicable to get the most out of your media budgets. Remember that using this threshold doesn't equate to "only 70% of my ads are viewable, and I'm OK with that." It means you understand that not all of your ads can be technically confirmed as viewable (due to the lack of proper measurement technology).
  • Expect higher CPMs. We're already seeing it happen. Viewable impressions come at a premium. If you want your ad to be verified as in-view to the user, be prepared for an increased investment.
  • Test, learn and adapt. In some situations, aiming for 70% viewability may conflict with your campaign goals and budgets. For example, you might have a CPA goal that requires lower CPMs and inventory that converts at a higher rate, and if that inventory is not "viewable" by industry standards, you have a decision to make: either trust that the "non-viewable" impressions are actually viewable but not measured, or reevaluate your campaign goals in order to align with the viewability expectations. Otherwise, you might reassess your perspective on the role of display and video advertising in your marketing plans. Can those tactics actually drive conversions when they're viewable (by industry standards)? You need to test that to find out. If not, then perhaps those tactics should be utilized solely as branding vehicles, in which viewable impressions are still valuable for building engagement and interest among your audiences.
  • Stay informed. Keep up with the latest updates from IAB and MRC on this topic to ensure that you are holding your media partners accountable for proper campaign delivery. There's plenty more to come. In the digital space, we have the ability to be more accurate in the way we quantify and evaluate our media programs, and viewability measurement is a step in the right direction.