Pushing Past Viewability’s Limitations

on August 12, 2016

Dominic Finney, VP of Digital Strategy at Theorem, discusses how to push past the limitations posed by current viewability standards. 

With most in industry now interested in trading with viewability as a top campaign success measure, questions remain: How do we move forward as an industry despite the obvious challenges and limitations inherent in measurement and reporting, and how do we respond to advertisers’ increasing demand for transparency?

The short answer is that we’ve arrived at this point as an industry and we have to address the challenges as an industry. Even though good work is happening in pockets that are dealing with crucial areas, we have to unify as an industry by aligning in a few major areas that could—in the longer term—hinder innovation and potentially create general mistrust across stakeholder groups. Based on our research and what’s happening in the market, I see work to be done in three key areas.

  • Align on how multiple ad tech vendors measure ad viewability—so as to establish consistency in methodologies that will facilitate more-consistent counting.
  • Advance standards to include non standard formats so there is a scalable form of measurement.
  • Design brand metrics’ models to include viewability as just one measure across a whole spectrum of brand metrics that are true indicators of performance.

Consider this a call to action for all stakeholders to work collectively to construct workable solutions. Our response as an industry has to be both comprehensive and collaborative.

For starters, let’s examine the sticking points that are preventing accurate and consistent measurement. According to a study we just completed on behalf of Sublime Skinz, many publishers said agencies are constructing many of their recent buys in such a way that they would pay only for “viewable impressions.” A majority of panelist respondents (56%) said their firms are now transacting on the viewable-cost-per-thousand-impressions model. That may be a good idea in principle, but the reality is that many marketers are experimenting with innovative, non standard ad formats to create immersive brand experiences—think skins, wallpapers, and content-rich native ads—yet such ad formats are the hardest to measure and therefore making it very difficult to trade against accurately.

That’s the true failing of where we are today, because the more creative we get, the harder it becomes to measure performance in any meaningful way.

Current standards certainly provide a starting point, but we need a broader set of metrics to encompass non standard units. That’s where collaboration is key. Agencies, brands, and publishers, too, can and should support the drive for measurement by raising awareness of the impact of not having optimum standards in place across the industry. And we have to collectively remove barriers to innovation.

The other problem? Viewability as the primary measure of performance simply doesn’t reflect the broader set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that determine true brand lift. Viewability is only a limited indicator of brand performance, and we must align around a KPI model that is broader and reflects what’s driving a brand best results. In our study, about 57% of panelists agreed that viewability has captured some of the focus from other leading metrics—for one, engagement, which they saw as the number one measure of a campaign’s success. We must educate marketers on what’s really driving audience loyalty to their brand.

And what is really driving engagement? High-impact ads that aren’t considered intrusive. Which brings us right back to a prior point: The more creative we get, the harder it gets to measure. We know intrusive ads hurt brand metrics, and audiences are willing to go to extreme measures to opt out of experiences they consider intrusive or whose messaging isn’t in line with what they’re interested in or what they expected. In fact, according to recent stats there are now some 198 million active ad block users around the world. In response, there is a whole movement by some publishers to guarantee that audiences won’t be hindered by ads if they subscribe to higher-tier, ad-free digital subscription packages.

It’s clear that we’re seeing a backlash from irresponsible advertising.

Theorem’s study panelists agreed that impact is higher and intrusiveness lower for formats that rate higher in brand effectiveness. Those top formats include skippable video, skins, and home page takeovers. So, the very ads that have the highest impact are the same ones that can’t be measured. And therein lies the biggest problem. In order to innovate and deliver brand-focused experiences, these ad formats need to be measured. To be measured, we need standards. And we’re right back to the starting point.

There is a clear sense of urgency around the need for broader viewability standards and precise guidance on how viewability fits into the overall set of brand KPIs. To overcome the obstacles, we need ad tech vendors, the agency community, the publishing sector, and, ultimately, the marketers to collaborate so they can find ways to strike a balance between innovation and effective measurement. It’s the only way we can move beyond the current dialogue.

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