Shanes Soapbox-If a tree falls in the forest….
….and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Sure it does but we wont hear it because we are not there. Skimming a cross section of daily news updates about the digital space as I do, it can seem editors look to play devils advocate for the sake of filling a content quota. Below are a couple of POV’s from Adage proclaiming the value of online ad ‘view ability’ is overhyped. The rationale: that it can be gamed by expedient publishers to the disadvantage of advertisers (what isn’t) and does not tell the whole story about relative risk of investment.
The point I largely want to make is contained in the conclusion of the AdAge piece:
“Brands need to know as much about the content and overall ad environment as possible before offering money for impressions. Viewability is a step in the right direction, but it is not the silver-bullet metric that some hope it to be. As in print, so in digital: The best decisions come when advertisers understand the ad environments they are about to enter”
Translation: Media buyers still need to physically inspect pages and placements publishers recommend on the RFP and look at the big picture- There’s plenty of venting from the pundits about how publishers can sneakily push ad units above the fold and keep the content below, and other similar tricks including padding CPM’s to make up the difference from less viewed ad units at the bottom of a page. This will happen and its the job of the online media strategist to account for this and negotiate accordingly. To put it bluntly, getting ripped off on a media buy is not a conspiracy just sloppy work from the media agency. Sales reps get paid to sell more space at a higher price, media buyers get paid to buy more space at a lower price. Its human nature to want more than what you pay for. Furthermore any initiative that brings more transparency, regardless of limitations, is always a good thing. Online media is a much maligned advertising channel and it needs all the innovation and enlightened thinking it can get.
So then Marcom professional, should you scale back your interest in view-ability on your media plans? No need for now, just ensure you hold your agency accountable for holding publishers accountable for fair value. That’s their job, that’s why you have them and pay them- and nothing beats, even in the age of the machines, a good old fashioned hard nosed media buyer with the mindset of a TV detective.
The Trouble With ‘Viewability’ as a Metric for Digital Ads
It’s a Step in the Right Direction, but Imprecise and Potentially Costly
One of the great challenges of digital advertising is getting assurance that users actually see the ads for which the advertisers are paying. Traditional print media has its problems, but buying page 6 of the September issue of Vogue pretty much guarantees eyeballs. It’s not the same in digital.
New metrics and standards have cropped up trying to solve this problem. In some circles the idea of the viewable impression has gained steam: measuring an ad’s length of viewability as a proxy for determining the likelihood that it has been seen. Yet the metric of viewability brings troubles of its own.
Joshua Koran, formerly with AT&T AdWorks, wrote recently that the metric will not help, in part because sellers will increase prices to make up for the money lost on unviewable and thus unpaid-for impressions. Such padding would drive up costs across the board.
Three other factors work together to undermine viewability as a viable measure:
After-the-fact measurement. Viewability is measured by time spent within the creative’s pixel viewports or similar methods. That means one learns whether an ad was seen only after it has run. This measurement informs other campaign impressions that will run on the same page, based on previous measurements. Using viewability, you’re always at least a step behind, because when you buy an impression you don’t know whether the ad will measure visibility for the particular user who’s about to consume the impression; all you know is what happened on average in the past for the ad placement loaded on that page. It’s a guessing game.
Impressions that are viewable, but useless. Viewability fails where it counts a view (an ad that loads on a viewed page for more than certain number of seconds), but ignores other signals (pictures, ads, page quality) competing for the user’s attention that, taken together, may distract the user from viewing the ad message. A view measured on a busy page tends to be less valuable to an advertiser than a view on an uncluttered page, but viewability is too crude a measure to distinguish such pages or placements. A metric that seeks to set a standard currency should scale and present a more universally applicable solution.
Gaming viewability. Viewability gives publishers an incentive to create pages that will capture more revenue from advertisers who pay based on that measure. No harm done, for the most part. Viewability rewards other techniques, as well — techniques that help no one. It can be gamed by simply placing ad units above the fold or in the center of the page, where they will be seen, and measured as viewable, while content the reader really wants is below the fold, forcing the user to scroll. Even worse, an unscrupulous person could design a page for viewability that has no content.
Brands need to know as much about the content and overall ad environment as possible before offering money for impressions. Viewability is a step in the right direction, but it is not the silver-bullet metric that some hope it to be. As in print, so in digital: The best decisions come when advertisers understand the ad environments they are about to enter.
“Data-Driven Thinking” is a column written by members of the media community and containing fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Joshua Koran is VP Digital Product Management, Research and Data for AT&T AdWorks.
‘Viewable Impression’ Boosters Ignore Simple Math
Much has been written about the “viewable impression” metric, which banishes impressions that go unnoticed by consumers. It relies on client-side code to track a user’s interaction with the browser scroll bar, attempting to measure whether below-the-fold ads ever show up on screen during a page impression. (It also looks at whether ads render at all or are obscured by other page elements.) While transparency always helps reduce market inefficiencies (and exposing the ad location helps buyers better evaluate and sellers better differentiate their inventory), this still doesn’t provide direct marketers metrics of success, including increased brand awareness, consumer interaction with the ad, or even click-through or conversion rates.
Many viewable impression tracking companies are urging media buyers to use their metric as currency for paying the media seller. These companies propose that advertisers who purchase inventory according to a viewable cost-per-thousand (i.e. vCPM) will increase their ROI, while publishers who sell inventory according to this new metric will increase their revenue. By charging only for viewable inventory, the publisher can command higher rates than they do today. Unfortunately, these claims ignore simple math.
Imagine a publisher charges $5 to serve 1,000 impressions of an advertiser’s campaign, but only 750 of those impressions are “viewable.” Under a viewable impression billing plan, the advertiser would be charged 75 percent of the normal cost for 1,000 impressions (e.g., $3.75 vCPM). Since the remaining unviewed impressions aren’t worth anything to a media buyer, the publisher would earn just 75 percent of what they received before. Alternatively, the publisher could try charging $6.67 for the viewable impressions to maintain their current revenue, but this model wouldn’t lower costs for media buyers and would only further complicate the transaction process.
While the viewable impression metric does not benefit sellers, the media buyers aren’t any better off either. How is that possible?
Assuming negligible costs to identify which impressions are viewable, it seems that the media buyer would benefit from paying for inventory according to a vCPM model. However, there is an important aspect of vCPM that viewable tracking companies ignore: risk.
Today, media buyers absorb the risk that their partners will deliver their campaigns to the right audience, at the right time, and in the right context. Being viewable is part of the context portion of the equation. An ad served at the bottom of the page is less likely to be viewed than one at the top of the page. Because the media seller cannot know whether the user will scroll down the page, the price charged to buyers would need to account for the percent of impressions that the seller serves, but the buyer will not pay for. Thus, our original $3.75 vCPM would need to increase to account for the risk of impressions that consumers do not see.
Since predictions are not perfect, media sellers are likely to pad their estimate to cover the margin where they do not guess correctly. This not only reduces the control a media buyer has over risk, but this price increase would also lower the ROI an advertiser earns from their media spend. Accordingly, using viewable impressions as a currency for pricing simultaneously reduces revenues to publisher and ROI to advertisers. Introducing the viewable-impression metric adds both complexity and cost. Given the increased expense to buyers – and decreased revenues to publishers – it would be imprudent for the industry to switch to this metric as the new currency for digital advertising.