Ad Viewability: Is the Current Model Broken?

Media Accountability

Sep 13, 2023 | Philippe Dominois

Ad Viewability: Is the Current Model Broken?

In today's rapidly changing world of digital advertising, a question that is becoming more and more urgent is: Why do advertisers have to pay for ads that go unseen? Traditional metrics like CPM (Cost Per Mille) are proving to be insufficient in accurately measuring campaign performance. This article aims to explore the complexities of ad viewability, a metric that has sparked much debate and scrutiny.

Are you effectively monitoring the performance of your digital media campaigns? Are you merely relying on basic metrics, or are you delving deeper into the data? Can you confidently assert that the information you're collecting provides sufficient insight into viewer response? Let's cut through the clutter and explore why the current ad viewability model may be flawed and what steps can be taken to rectify it.

What is Ad Viewability?

Ad viewability is a crucial metric that determines whether an ad has truly been seen by a user. While the current industry standard of 50% visibility for one second is considered the minimum requirement, it has faced criticism for its lack of effectiveness.

Academic research suggests that users only have confidence in ad recall when at least 75% of pixels are shown for a minimum of two seconds. It's clear that a higher threshold is needed for ads to make a lasting impact on users.

Why do Brands Need Ad Viewability Tracking?

The significance of ad viewability is highlighted by a large-scale study indicating that digital marketing effectiveness is often exaggerated by up to 4,100%. More than half of online ads go unnoticed by online users or are not recognized as viewable.

Tracking ad viewability goes beyond mere visibility; it focuses on meaningful engagement. It enables advertisers to evaluate the effectiveness of their online campaigns and ensures that they are only charged for ads that deliver results.

Furthermore, tracking ad viewability provides valuable insights into consumer behavior. It is interesting to note that 57% of page-viewing time is spent above the fold, with the first two screenfuls of content receiving a total of 74% of viewing time. These statistics suggest that ads positioned further down a page may be displayed but have a lower chance of being seen.

How Can Ad Viewability Be Tracked?

Various tools and platforms offer ad viewability tracking services, including key players like Comscore, DoubleVerify (DV), Integral Ad Science (IAS), and Moat. These platforms provide real-time data and analytics, allowing advertisers to make informed decisions. They work by embedding tracking pixels or using JavaScript tags in the ad units, capturing data on how long the ad is viewed and the percentage of the ad in view.

The cost of tracking ad viewability can vary widely, but what's certain is that not tracking it can be even more costly. Marketers have wasted globally between $6.5 billion and $19 billion due to ad fraud in 2019 alone. Budgeting for viewability tracking should be an integral part of your media planning process. It's an investment in data-driven decision-making that can pay dividends in the long run by minimising advertising media wastage.

What Are the Issues with the Current Model?

The current model for ad viewability faces several challenges. Firstly, the existing standard of 50% visibility for one second is insufficient. Secondly, the lack of consistency in tracking methods across different platforms leads to discrepancies in data. Lastly, the fact that advertisers still pay for non-viewed impressions.

Spending money on ads that are not being seen doesn't make sense to me. Advertisers should only pay for ads that have been seen by their target audience. This principle holds true for most areas of advertising, including traditional media channels.

Take TV advertising, for instance. When advertisers purchase airtime through their agency, they rely on metrics like cost per GRPs or cost per thousand contacts. If an ad fails to deliver any GRP or rating, the advertiser does not pay for that TV spot. This same concept should be applied to the world of digital media advertising in my opinion.

My Recommendations and Next Steps

Before diving into the actionable steps, it's crucial to understand that the landscape of digital advertising is ever-changing. Advertisers must be agile and adaptive to stay ahead of the curve. The following recommendations are designed to offer a more effective and fair system for ad viewability, ensuring that your advertising budget is well-spent and ad wastage is minimised.

Step 1: Change your Definition of Viewability

To ensure a more robust and accurate measurement of ad viewability, it is imperative for the industry to adopt a more stringent standard. Based on academic research, I highly recommend revising the definition of viewability from 50% visibility for one second to a minimum of 75% visibility for at least three seconds. This adjustment aligns with the findings of research studies and will provide advertisers with more reliable metrics to evaluate campaign performance.

Step 2: Only Pay for Viewable Impressions

Advertisers should insist on paying only for viewable impressions. This will not only make budgeting more efficient but also incentivise publishers to improve the quality of ad placements.

Step 3: Implement These Changes into your Media Agency Contract

It's crucial to formalise these changes by incorporating them into your media agency contracts. This will ensure accountability and pave the way for more transparent and effective advertising practices.

Keen to take control of your advertising spend and minimise wastage?. Contact us today to benchmark your ad viewability rates for free. It's time to transform your media strategy for the better.

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Author Expertise and Experience:

Philippe Dominois is co-founder and CEO of Abintus Consulting, and Head Coach at the Abintus Academy. He has over 25 years of international media experience, having worked on the media agency side, client side, and media auditing side throughout his career. Philippe has authored hundreds of articles over the years that focus on media management best practices.

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