The Viewability Quandary: How to Make It Work & Who Will Actually Use It
It’s funny that viewability seems to be the hot subject in US trades at this present time. Every post I read confuses the proposition even more. Ad tech vendors continue to muddy the water around the subject, but who wants it — and is it really necessary? I am actually hosting a panel around this very subject this week, and I thought a post would be a good way to examine this topic. Let’s look at the fundamentals of the issue and who is driving adoption:
What is ad viewability?
Good question. Given the competing methodologies it’s hard to actually discern what is going on, but effectively marketers want people to see ads. They want their ads in view and they want to make sure their ads had some kind of engagement with users. Buying below the fold inventory is fast becoming unacceptable to marketers looking to get full value from their display spend. This seems even more important for brand-focused campaigns. While scouring the web for some information on viewability, I came across this post on 360i.com. It has an insightful overview of the current issues around it.
Below the fold inventory is a particular bug bear for marketers, as they seek to get users to engage with their message. CNN’s three ads running at the bottom of the page is a good example of how inventory — that will never be in view — is counted as impressions, or worse still, assigned credit on a post-view basis, but this kind of gaming of the post-view metric has been, and still is, going on.
Who is pushing this agenda?
The obvious answer here is the marketer. Agencies are in a difficult spot. While they want to protect the best interests of their client, the feeling with the introduction of ad viewability is it’s inevitable that quality premium inventory will be restricted and prices will rise accordingly. This of course is a red flag to any agency buyer. Publishers are obviously alarmed that a reduction of impressions to sell will mean less revenue, given that agencies will try to lock them into the same price structures.
The clamour in Europe for this type of metric has been strangely muted. It barely even registers a story in the trades. In the US, with so much venture capital being thrown around, the wheels are a lot easier to grease. However, in the end, marketers will push this along — and agencies and publishers will have to tow the line, but not before there is an almighty battle around pricing.
The varying methodologies
Standardisation seems to be a real problem for ad viewability. Nobody can seem to decide on one methodology — possibly because of so many competing offerings — but are there really many, or just a handful? I find pieces on this subject really unhelpful. There are never any specifics on how viewability will actually work. The best tutorial I have received on the subject came from spider.io’s Douglas de Jager, who gave us a masterclass on the subject some months ago. In this #TraderTalkTV episode, de Jager said there were only really two effective methodologies to measure ad viewability — and even then that could be open to subjectivity. Whether that is still the case is unknown because nobody in this industry wants to talk specifics. In terms of adoption of ad viewability, nothing will happen until a standard is agreed by all parties, and subsequently evangelised by the IAB, but let’s see what my panel has to say on that area this week. Will Google sweep all this away by adding ad viewability in its ad server by default? I suspect that will happen. If anyone can get a metric adopted by the industry it will be Google.
Viewability, the domain of premium and video advertising?
It’s no coincidence that video advertisers, and some ad tech vendors, have been really pushing the subject of viewability. Given the fluffy metrics around brand, it’s really all about engagement — and let’s be honest, no brand wants to spend its money on an autoplay ad. It seems to be the scourge of the industry at the minute. Facebook’s move into autoplay video will be interesting. How many brands will sign up to Facebook’s new initiative? Clearly video has some problems in this area. Will ad viewability address the issue of autoplay abuse? It seems logical to assume that ad viewability will be adopted first by video advertisers. It will be interesting to see how this open standard, OpenVB, will fare in the coming months.
Will ad viewability be adopted?
You’d have to say it is inevitable, but not before a standard metric has been agreed and publishers are achieving better yields for their in-view ads. I am sure there is tech being built to make this possible. Already you have existing workarounds where buyers are blacklisting sites with below the fold inventory — or publishers/ad nets have built in some pre-agreed inventory that’s in-view. Still lots of questions to be answered. Looking forward to my first viewability panel where all this will be discussed at length.