Moving the dial: viewability for online branding
It's time advertisers woke up to the fact that not all impressions are equal, writes InSkin Media's Steve Doyle.
One of the clear lessons as the supply in digital inventory ballooned in the late noughties, was that you could buy advertising cheap. Really cheap. The cheaper it got, the easier it became to run large direct response driven campaigns, buying billions of ad impressions for pence. This propagated the rise of the ad network, where people bought a lot, but did not necessarily achieve the results they were hoping for.
As advertising trading became indiscriminate - Run of Network - with no real thought or attention paid to where it was running, because it was so cheap, the people being paid pence realised that, by adding more ad units to their page, they could improve their yield per page.
Fast forward to 2013, when the industry collectively realised why all of this inventory was so cheap. It was, in the main, below the fold and barely seen. Buying advertising so cheaply had created a double-headed monster of less scrupulous publishers delivering more and more inventory, in an eco-system in which ad fraud could thrive, which further devalued the power of the online ad.
Since then, the IAB has been working with a collective of industry figures here in the UK, and colleagues at the MRC in the US, to join together and weed out some of the more irregular practices in ad fraud, and also to set standards around viewable inventory.
Now, let's be clear that offline media has no effective audience measure that compares to online media. Who saw my bus shelter? Who saw my poster? Who saw my TV ad? Experts may tell you there is science behind all media inventory, but online advertising is much more accountable, and therefore under much more scrutiny.
Having sat on the IAB Viewability Council since its inception, it has been interesting to observe not only the politics of the situation (so many have so much to lose), but the attempt to turn around an oil tanker at an unrealistic speed.
The IAB standards really deal with one thing - identifying impressions that have no chance whatsoever to be seen - and then weeding out those non-viewable "impressions" for advertisers and buyers.
They are not a blueprint for the future measurement of online advertising success. They are a starting point, which we as an industry now need to progress. Some claim to have invented their own standards which, while admirable, really only serve as a selling tool, rather than a means of uniform measurement across an industry.
As the topic of viewability is pushed to the fore, it will become an increasingly important metric for savvy brands who want to know that their ads are seen and accounted for, especially as awareness and investment around high-quality online brand campaigns rises.
In turn, the ad technology (and its issues) measuring these metrics will come under scrutiny. Audit measurements are changing to reflect this, which will add weight to the many conversations on this topic between clients and agencies.
However, the challenge remains the incongruence between the Measurement Debate ("Did the ad have a chance to be seen?") and the Trading Debate ("I only want to pay for an ad over x% in-view"), which need to be tackled separately.
Making sure viewability is "watertight" will make trading easier; and uniformity is imperative, so there can be common measurement across all ads, a challenge we are far from resolving.
Crucially, this can start a real debate about the value of an ad placement, and ensure that advertisers clearly understand that not all impressions are equal, and not all engagements and interactions mean the same thing. Being able to demonstrate this at scale is key.
We at InSkin Media have a broader set of challenges with how viewablility vendors measure non-standard, high-impact units, a subject we will be discussing in depth at dmexco in September.
One potentially interesting solution is an open-source approach for viewability measurement, which would overcome the key issues of inconsistency (multiple vendors with different methodologies lead to discrepancies in viewable impression counts, and consequently confusion on the buy-side) and incompleteness (current measurement approaches and guidelines are not appropriate for large, non-standard rich-media formats).
Only time will prove the appetite for this type of commonality, but in our view it is a vital step to overcome the "gatekeeper" debate that viewability has become, and to reinforce the case for investing in online branding.
At a macro level, traditional "branding" is shifting away from TV and print, into digital, and we who aspire to help advertisers navigate this shift must be able to do so quickly and simply, which we are not yet fully set up to deliver.
If we are successful, the budget will flow more readily from offline to online, which remains core to our philosophy of growing new markets and creating innovative opportunities for advertisers and agencies.
We will progress with the IAB, and we will publish our own findings in September. We welcome responses from all corners on how truly uniform measurement (across both standard and non-standard ad units) can help move the dial for online brand advertising.
Steve Doyle is chief commercial officer, InSkin Media.