Bringing viewability up to date

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Bringing viewability up to date

Hi, I’m John Shepherd of the strategy and planning team here at Rocket Mill, welcome to my forefront today, which is going to be around the topic of viewability. What some might consider the slightly old-fashioned point of view, or at least quite an unfashionable view. ‘Cause I don’t really consider viewability to be a measure of ROI in itself. Upfront I should be clear on what I’m referring to by the term viewability.

What is viewability?

Viewability simply refers to how much of a paid digital media placement is served in the view of the user. So how much and how often is an ad placement within the screen of a user’s device. The Internet Advertising Bureau provides an industry standard for viewability endorsed by the Media Rating Council. They outline two elements to consider a placement in view, the pixel requirement that at least half an ad is in view, and a time requirement that, that takes place over the course of at least one second. They do not offer within this definition any analysis that was done to establish that standard. Nor provide any insight as to what the natural delivery of impressions that meet the standard in the market is.

When does an ad become viewable?

Here’s another standard as defined by the biggest media in town, who consider an ad to only be viewable if it’s wholly served in view, and reference user behaviour on specific platforms. Again, there is little analysis as to what this higher standard actually delivers to the bottom line. One might conclude that demanding a higher level from suppliers and industry standards of a certain trackable, is just a savvy way of leveraging buyer power. To at least demonstrate your campaigns are delivering above average industry standards, in the absence of delivering anything more tangibly beneficial.

Preventing ad fraud

The fact that there is not a single view of the truth concerning what in view is, perhaps indicates the caution that must be exercised in considering it a measure of return on investment. Moving away for a moment from what viewability actually is, we can be very clear on some things it definitely is not. Viewability is not the same as the view through rate, which refers to the duration of a video placement that is played to a viewer on average. It’s not to be mistaken for ad fraud, we’ve seen through the industry definition that viewability is a market condition. Whereas ad fraud is quite simply criminality looking to take money under false pretences. Lastly, it’s not to be mistaken for a brand safety consideration, which is concerned with how contextually appropriate the environment, which ads are served in is, or indeed is not.

Unfortunately, these all remain clear and present dangers or at least concerns in the world of digital marketing. It’s essential for any advertiser online to avail themselves of the best means to be preemptive and proactive in this space and to mitigate the risk. Further, I would strongly advise that a third party tech is put in place to provide this service, rather than entrust your media supplier or buyer to mark their own homework. It’s a fairly cluttered market of would be providers in this space, our assessment of Rocket Mill indicates integral ad science is clear of the pack in the sophistication of their capability currently.

Is viewability a measure of ROI?

But returning now to the substantial issue for today, viewability is not a measure of return on investment. I can prove it, let’s do some maths. So let’s consider the two broad objectives of marketing investment are down and dirty DR brief to deliver performance or something around the brand. Looking at performance first, here are two placements that might be available through a programmatic exchange. The fact they’re in the performance space we are primarily dealing with them, which we secure through a programmatic platform, is hugely significant. As it means the market conditions of those are near real-time trading, and the price is determined by demand and supply. I should credit Google for making such a nice template so readily available online.

When this page loads, only the top one of these placements is in view, served above the fold. Let’s consider the implications of this and the real-time dynamic of our media buyer. Let’s start with a nominal campaign budget of £250, let’s say that the price of a placement is likely to be served above the fold, is £8 cost. At a bit of a premium versus marketers averages, due to the high demand for viewable impressions. With our budget of £250, you could buy over 31,000 of these above the fold impressions. Let’s say at 70% of the time these impressions are served consistent with the IOB definition of viewability, and that half the ad is in view for at least a second. That’s a little under 22,000 viewable impressions secured. Due to that premium above the fold placement, a fairly decent performance click-through rate of 0.08% is delivered.

So for your £250 budget, you have 17 clicks, a cost per click of £15. Let’s scroll down now and have a look at what our programmatic buyer is delivering below the fold. Same budget but the excess supply and limited demand for such inventory mean a placement can be secured at CPM with just 70 pence. Of the 357,000 impressions secured in this instance, only a third of them are in the view according to IOB standards. It stands to reason that these will perform at a far less competitive average click-through rate of say 0.02%. But even with this far diminished performance in terms of both viewability and response, we can see that the programmatic cost efficiencies and securing the inventory mean you still get more bang for your buck below the fold.

Brand placements

Although this is an initiative example, the range of prices, viewability, and click through rates are all well within the market norms. The implication is clear if this nominal campaign had been optimised as against viewability, it would have had an inflationary effect how well it performed and compromised on paid traffic to site, and everything that comes with that. But what about our brand campaigns? Surely the idea of having a brand placement delivered out of view is a bit of a non-acusector? Well maybe not quite, when you buy brand your consideration is not so solely dedicated to the target audience alone. Context, environment and association are all things that are still likely to be valuable when we’re looking to land a brand. You might well secure a placement on a tenancy or takeover basis, for example, so let’s think about that.

Here is a page, Credit Twitch this time for the template, that a brand may want to secure all the placements off to maximise their potential exposure to Twitters hard to reach audience of dedicated consumers. Again, some of these placements are above the fold, and some are delivered below the fold.

A brand would still be well advised to secure the whole lot because the best way to maximise their exposure to the audience in this context is to maximise their share of voice. Because what are they achieving by doing so? They are maximising their target audiences opportunity to see them. This is really the only measure of viewability that an advertiser should be concerned with. Guess what? It’s a fairly old-fashioned one. Whether we consider the hundreds of channels you could be watching on a telly instead of the one a particular ad is on. Or how many ads are going to be seen by how many people in the paper. Or how many people go past a certain site so many times without noticing what’s on it. Or how many routine, regular or infrequent listeners are actually listening during a certain transmission. Any media is only 100% viewable to those who have viewed it.

Consumer path to conversion

Opportunity to see is a well-established performance parameter in all media planning, buying and reporting. In this context should a scroll down really be considered something so uniquely apart from a switch on, or a switchover on TV? A flick through the paper, looking up to see what outdoor ad is in place, or tuning into a certain radio transmission? So if viewability and the optimising and trading of it is not the panacea some would have us believe for digital media, how do we establish what we should be buying and if it was worth it? Well, it’s high time we considered the consumer path to conversion and what our expectations actually are at each stage of it. Because as we all would recognise it is not the same throughout, driving awareness well does not have the same immediate outcomes as sweeping up conversions. So why would it be judged by the same lens or by the same criteria?

In our strategy and planning at RocketMill, we recognise the different marketing objectives that might inform media investment. We recognise the different objectives of driving brand awareness, increasing consideration, building engagement and yes, of course, delivering meaningful conversion. Something I consider our paid media team to be unsurpassable in. We recognise that the particular objective of a campaign should inform the brief, and we commit that for every brief a KPI should be identified. A metric should be established to report against that KPI, and a relevant benchmark should be set. Your media plans should not only, or perhaps even feature the commodity you are buying and the price of it, impressions and CPM for example. As that will only allow you to track delivery. Amongst the noise, you should consider these fundamental signals that allow you to assess your return on investment.

Greater impressions at greater viewability

So what about viewability? It’s not up there as a metric, or as a benchmark or as a KPI. So why would you make it a brief or an objective? So next time you find someone saying to you, or even worse saying to yourself, to really cut through here what we need is more impressions at a greater level of viewability. Put this question, by what end, to what means? The answer to delivering on your business objective through digital media is not to make more impressions trackable by a machine. But to maximise the opportunity for a person to see you, by following a framework that speaks to every stage of the consumer journey.


So to support you in that four key take-outs. marketing principles have not changed but digital can make measurement better. The principle of planning to maximise the opportunity to see is not a change particular to digital media. It is a fundamental consideration of all media planning and buying. Digital does have however some fantastic tech opportunities to really measure the things that matter. Beware the digital-only currencies and metrics as measurements, as they are considerable vested interests, which are of course all the agencies and suppliers, and buyers that have been dealing in long-term impressions with little accountability so far.

As an extension of that, viewability tracking, as it is currently practised actually serves to maintain the status quo. It will not, in itself, make the internet a better opportunity for marketers because it will not make it a better experience for consumers. The only challenge your agency should be dealing with is demonstrating how they are moving the needle. If they’re not able to convince with reference to tangible outcomes, do not buy into spiracy channel bespoke metrics. Finally what will make the internet a better experience for consumers is that you think about what your campaign needs to achieve at each stage of the path to conversion, and plan investment accordingly. Optimise against it and test and learn against it, and feed those insights until you’re always on the cyclical planning approach.

These points are fundamental to our strategy and planning approach at RocketMill, and the interdependency of paid media with all our service lines underpins by the best in the business at data and insight. Thanks for your time.