What Does Viewability Mean for Advertisers?

August 29th, 2014 by Alexandra

This is the third post in a series about online advertising measurement and methodologies. Feel free to email me or post in the comments section about topics you’d like to see covered in this series. Curious about Chartbeat advertising tools? Learn more here.

In the last post, we took a look at what viewability means for publishers. Now, we’re turning the tables and breaking down what viewability means for advertisers.

So, how are digital advertisers responding to the MRC’s viewability certification?

Similar to publishers, digital advertisers have started turning to viewability vendors to audit campaigns and measure the viewability of their ads. This process gives brand marketers and agencies the opportunity to monitor whether their ads have the chance to be seen and to differentiate between quality/value of ad placements. In short, viewability offers advertisers a new level of transparency that will, in effect, set new standards to which media vendors will be held.

And with that new transparency come new terms and conditions. For example, we’re slowly starting to see agencies build viewability percentage goals or viewable impression guarantees as line items in their requests for proposals (RFPs). This means that prior to advertisers signing any contracts, media sellers will either agree to optimize an advertiser’s campaign toward a certain (goal) viewability percentage, or they will guarantee a mutually agreed upon viewability percentage. Sellers will be expected to deliver on said targets in order to receive payment in full.

On a larger scale, viewability is forcing marketers to rethink their approaches to media buying. For some, that may mean rolling out a campaign and then only paying for ads that were in view. For others it may mean doing a “controlled” buy beforehand to only serve ads that are in view. As we mentioned in the previous post, publishers and advertisers are still trying to find middle ground here. That said, larger companies like Google and Yahoo!, as well as a few smaller networks, are already allowing advertisers to pay only for viewable ads. Whether that will be the go-to model moving forward is still uncertain. We’ll have more on this topic later in our series.

How are advertisers using viewability to their advantage?

Advertisers’ ability to measure and monitor viewability will potentially have significant impact on their business as a whole. As we see it, there are a few game changers:
  1. Viewable brand lift will become a real-time metric of success. On the brand marketing side, advertisers will be able to start identifying which elements increase viewability and impact, and make changes while a campaign is still running. A recent Nielsen study found that brand lift improved by 31% when responses from non-viewable ads were filtered out. Beyond seeing which ads were viewable, advertisers will be able to gain a better sense of which viewable ads resonated with their audience(s) and take those learnings to optimize future campaigns.
  2. Improving viewability will improve campaign results for advertisers. It’s not surprising that eliminating non-viewable ads (those not able to be seen by a visitor) from the equation would be a win for advertisers.  Kellogg’s, for example, found that improving viewability by 40% resulted in a 75% increase in the sales lift of a digital campaign. Receiving real-time ad viewability data—that enabled Kellogg’s to stop buying ads that nobody was seeing—had a significant impact on the company’s ROI.

By eliminating non-viewable ads from the picture, advertisers will be able to allocate more, if not all, of their campaigns to premium content sites. Let’s break it down: As I mentioned in my last post, viewability will allow sites that offer quality content and user experiences to stand out from those that do not. If we link viewability to page quality, publishers seeking to increase viewability will likely improve—if they haven’t already—the quality of their sites by making adjustments to page layouts, ad quantity and type. As site quality increases, engagement will likely increase as well, making certain pages and audiences become more valuable to advertisers. Conversely, the bad-actors (pages cluttered with ads, link-bait content) will find their inventory becoming less and less valuable to the market. Advertisers will be able to compare the performance of their campaigns across publishers, and will ultimately choose to buy ads on sites that offer both quality content and a quality audience.

In short, more transparency will lead to more informed ad buys, and theoretically, less wasted ad spend. When demand-side platforms (DSPs) optimize for viewable ads, thus taking non-viewable ads out of the equation, ad dollars will deliver more ROI.

What challenges are advertisers facing during this transition?

First, there is the obstacle of an impression being viewable versus being actually viewed. If you’ll recall, the IAB defines a viewable impression as one that’s at least 50% visible in the viewable portion of a person’s browser window for at least one second. So, technically, viewability tracks if an ad has a chance to be seen by a user, not if it actually was. Yes, an ad may have been served, but that doesn’t mean it was seen. Think, for a second, how many times you’ve done a quick scan of a page and completely missed an ad.

Note: It’s important to remember that measuring viewability is no easy feat. And while viewability may have a number of blind spots, it’s better than anything we’ve had before. Short of something (pretty crazy) like eye-tracking, viewability does do a solid job of helping to call out the bad stuff, read: non-viewable ads, link-bait content and poor quality, ad-heavy user experiences.

Second, as with publishers, many of the challenges advertisers are facing are due to the binary natures of a viewable impression. Specifically, viewability on its own does not offer a comprehensive measurement of impact or brand lift. A simple “viewable or not” fails to fully measure the effectiveness of an impression, as it doesn’t offer a nuanced view of the extent to which an ad resonated with an audience. In other words, viewability does not take into account that the amount of time beyond one second in view improves response rates. We’ll take a deeper dive into Active Exposure Time—measuring the amount of time an actively engaged audience is exposed to a display ad—and how it impacts brand recall later in the series. If you’re dying to know more now, check out this post by our chief data scientist Josh Schwartz.

And finally, the discrepancies in measurements between viewability vendors will create a few obstacles for advertisers as well. Remember how we said publishers may not get paid for ads that one vendor says aren’t viewable, even when another gave the thumbs up? Well, the same goes for advertisers, except they may end up paying for ads that nobody ever sees. Sound familiar? This isn’t the first time advertisers are facing this problem. More on the nitty-gritty mechanics of viewability measurements to come. Stay tuned...

Also in Our Series: