The great viewability debate

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The great viewability debate

I’m going to talk to you about the great viewability debate and why it’s important for us as marketers.

For digital, it’s a debate that has been rumbling on for quite a while so I thought I address it as an agency and I want you guys to think about it when we are planning successful campaigns for our clients.

What is viewability?

Put simply, it’s connected with display advertising, on the large part. It means that we are able to measure the opportunity for an ad to be seen. It means the ad was viewed, the creative was in view, and of course it was seen by a human.

There is nothing new about viewability. Everyone remembers John Lewis’ Buster the dog and that’s because TV works, no-one is doubting that. However, the measurements for TV viewing are largely based on BARBs 5,000 homes, which in-turn are up-weighted to represent circa 50 million. The point being that we can’t measure every single individual, which is why the industry debates the consistency of cross channel viewability metrics.

Outdoor, another channel where there is no doubting its ability to be incredibly creative and wonderfully impactful. Imagine if this poster [Carlsberg Beer-tap 96 Sheet] rather than just beer from the tap, could provide individual viewing numbers – the number of people that walk past and said that they’d actually seen it.

Arguably, news brands [Newsworks] are probably the most robust of all offline media. The sample size, I believe, is still 35,000 people, but [broken down by title] that’s still up-weighted to represent the UK population.

What makes online viewability different?

So, what makes viewability online any different? Quite simply, it’s because it’s more measurable. Overall, we know if an ad can be viewed, where it’s viewed and, if we do a good job in planning our campaigns, we’ll know the context and the environment in which it’ll appear in. There are still significant challenges though, especially if we only think about viewability in isolation.

What’s causing the viewability debate?

Lots of different people have lots of different views on what we are actually measuring. How we’re measuring it and who is measuring it for us? Has the client chosen to work with a third party? That’s all because we must build the foundations for trading and these decisions make fundamental challenges on how much people pay.

It also puts pressure on the publishers, where we deliver ads, so things like this happen [Screen with multiple ads on one page]. Lots of ads above the fold, lots of ads that would’ve been served, programmatic or otherwise, and all paid for. Don’t get me wrong, some people still buy a 100% share of voice on the page, but hopefully none of you are buying these types of things.

There are people in place to hopefully look after those things, I’ve mentioned some of the more traditional ones. The likes of BARB for TV; amp, which measure print brands and Route for outdoor. IAB, on the large part, look after us in the UK and set the minimum standards which we should all be working to from a display perspective, and other means.

There are those that suggest that the minimum standards aren’t quite enough, and I’ll talk more about them in a while. Which is why we’ve got a plethora of tech companies being born to measure such things. Some of them have been around for eight or nine years. RealView were one of the first, but more recently IAS, Integral Ad Science seem to be the ones trying to clarify what’s important, to take that minimum benchmark set by the IAB and really push forward with greater transparency.

I’m also going to read something from Google. They only launched this last month, their Ads Data Hub. “A solution that, originally designed as a measurement tool for YouTube, now offers access to data and actionable insights across Google Display Network and DoubleClick.” They’re recognising the importance that third party measurement, even on their own stuff, is required.

How viewability is measured

What are they looking at? Quite simply, they want to look at ads that are in view, the position and load time. Of course, the viewability rate, because that’s what people will end up trading upon.

Here’s that minimum standard set by the IAB, so 50% of the pixels of the ad, in view for one second or more. That changes dramatically depending on the size of the ad, for example, a billboard or a half page unit only needs to be 30% in view, still only for one second. You need to start to decide for yourself whether you think that’s an acceptable level of viewability to trade upon for our clients. Video is about two seconds but the same rules apply and it must be two consecutive seconds. There’s still debate over whether that video must be at the very beginning or can interject in the middle. Then in-app viewability, this tends to be the better, but there’s still challenges.

What this looks like

This is the outcome, [image of publisher maximising it’s revenue by sacrificing UX] this is what they’re looking at. Lots of ads on a page, all in view. There’s probably some techniques employed to make sure that you can see the brand names, which on two adverts, you can’t there. Then, factor in why you arrived here in the first place, it will be one or two seconds before you scroll down to have a look at the article that you probably searched for. For me, I think that’s where we should consider that while viewability is important, gone unchecked, without the context it could have a negative brand effect. We should be starting to measure our success based on the maximum possible viewability but we also have to monitor and measure the output.

There’s also large discrepancies in technology. We’ve heard about this in recent presentations from our business. To oversimplify it’s where situations occur like when the buy side often can see the ad but has much more difficulty understanding the position of the ad. On the sell side, you can see the position but not always know if the ad completed loading, so it could still be white space before someone moves on, but still be deemed viewable.

Can you imagine those tolerances being allowed in those milliseconds, a 10% or 15% discrepancy? How much money could be involved in that decision-making process? It’s huge, which is why we need to be mindful of these differences.

What is the price of quality?

So, what is the price of quality then? Some opinions suggest that CPMs were already representative of a large amount of wastage, as per TV, etc. I’m not quite convinced on that. I think publishers maximised their CPA’s based on the value of their content and audience and with the onslaught of programmatic and adblockers, viewability just went into the mix. Some publishers just simply wouldn’t trade on viewability and I that’s becoming impossible now, we must.

We also need to decide whether it’s worth paying that little bit more for quality, and then decide what our metrics for what a successful campaign looks like. With that in mind, I’ve got a few tips for planning with viewability but making sure that it’s not in isolation.

Tips for planning viewability

Of course, this should be the standard for every agency, including ours. Is it brand safe and was it seen by humans? We’ve all seen the recent headlines and discussions over ad funded terror etc. We must make sure we are buying the right stuff.

Why wouldn’t we want all our ads to be 100% seen? I’m not creating some kind of manifesto that doesn’t add up here, I’m just saying that we must make sure that we start with that as a benchmark and then overlay all the context.

Who is going to verify it for you? Lots of third party tools if we can’t do it ourselves, so make sure that the client understands exactly how we are measuring our campaigns.

On that note, consider the placement of your campaigns. We’ve seen what things can look like, even though they may be in view, to monitor that context that hasn’t changed in 50 years. Media buyers have done that for the outside of digital for decades, making sure that it’s bought in the right environment.

And, of course, what other engagements are important to us, what’s important to that entire campaign? The delivery of it, the metrics, the revenue. Is it worth paying a little bit more from a bidding perspective, to get the right kind of quality?

As digital standardises and once we agree on the measurements, what will be the things that make a difference? The planning, of course but it’s always been the creative that helps us stand out and we must get closer to creative agencies for them to understand the mechanics. Viewable ads with terrible creative in an unsuitable format could have a negative impact.

That’s my tips for planning the viewability in mind, but not in isolation.