Viewability has been a trending topic in the online ad space this year, particularly as brand marketers and large publishers vent their ever-present impatience with the lack of metrics for advertising that's more about creating affinity than direct-response clicks and conversions.
In April, Google's viewable-impression metric, Active View, got the approval of the Media Ratings Council, putting it in a class with four other MRC-accredited viewability providers: comScore, Double Verify, RealVu and Spider.io. With another dozen or so companies awaiting the MRC's nod as well, Susan Bidel, a Forrester senior analyst, has declared that 2014 will be the year viewability becomes the standard for brand-focused display advertising. To ensure that does happen, Bidel said the ball is now in the publishers' court.
"The standards for viewability are pretty much agreed upon at this point," said Bidel, who penned a report titled "Viewability Brings Transparency To The Display Marketplace" this past week. She added, "A lot of publishers need to see how they fit into this new standard and make necessary changes to accommodate the new standard with different pricing schemes."
It probably won't take much to prod publishers to make the adjustments to pricing and technology specs needed to make viewability work. After all, large publishers have often complained about old media brand dollars being traded for digital pennies and dimes. That situation is primarily due to the reliance on low-cost clickthrough metrics that are based on someone being inspired to click on an ad that takes them to another page to make an immediate purchase.
When a marketer has a campaign intended to get someone to be interested in a future purchase of car or fashion or packaged goods, clicks don't count for much. The initial impulse toward greater viewability was driven by brand advertisers who were frustrated by several things, Bidel noted.
For one thing, marketers like to be able to plan across multiple platforms and look at a campaign as a single, holistic initiative. They like to look at it across all the platforms they're going to use. And because digital is measured differently, that has made brand campaign planning difficult.
"Because advertisers recognize the obvious efficiencies of working in the digital sphere, they wanted to be able to use digital more effectively," Bidel said. "But they felt they weren't able to do that. There's just been a lack of confidence on the part of lot of marketers that they weren't sure they were getting exactly what they intended to buy. If no one is seeing the ad, it's wasted money."
There is still lingering skepticism about viewability's traction in the marketplace among advertisers. Brian Hughes, SVP and audience analysis practice lead for IPG's Magna Global, agreed that viewability will become the standard for display in the near future. He's just not sure if it will be next year.
Aside from publisher adoption, he said he's concerned that online video advertising, which is becoming more important as a brand medium for digital, is lagging too far behind general display in adopting viewability standards.
"I think there are two reasons video is lagging. One is that that industry is still primarily concentrating on getting display right first," Hughes said. "But also simply being more technically difficult."
The state of video-ad viewability metrics improve by the end of the year, TubeMogul CEO Brett Wilson has said. This spring, the video Demand-Side Platform began organizing other companies in the video-ad space around establishing open-source standards for viewability. Companies that have signed on to TubeMogul's viewability consortium include BrightRoll, Innovid, LiveRail and SpotXchange, and others, such as Turn, DataXu, Extreme Reach, PointRoll and Undertone, having expressed interest in joining.
While the video space attempts to catch up, some marketers are still finding their patience tested by general display viewability.
"I think we have made limited progress on viewability. However, until we have a single tag solution that is adapted by marketers and publishers, we will continue to struggle," said Erica Bigley, digital media manager at Ford Motor Company. "Also, setting realistic expectations of viewability benchmarks is also important.”
Bidel acknowledged the additional advancements needed to solidify viewability's position with brands. She applauded steps taken by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, along with the other major industry trades – the 4A's, the Online Publishers Association and the Association of National Advertisers – in working with the MRC to produce standards.
The IAB also has sought to overcome technical hurdles. The group has been promoting "SafeFrame 1.0" specifications that are intended to address viewability in iFrames, which are essentially content containers that ensure that a publisher's material will remain intact wherever it appears. The iFrames have tended to block viewable impressions as a result of keeping the information embedded in publishers' content from seeping out.
In addition, viewable impressions remain at the heart of Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS), a cross-platform initiative that is being supported by the IAB and its trade-industry partners.
But just as important as trade groups working together to spread the viewability gospel is Bidel's belief that viewability's rise has as much to do with Google's focus on building up its Active View metric as the standard.
"[Active View] is the one solution that is in-server and will accommodate video and mobile," Bidel said. "Still, the one drawback is that it does not work with social media. But Google is certain to address that. And that's important because of the size of the market that Google works with – I've seen estimates that it works with 60% of all publishers. And that's reason enough to expect that Google's work in this area will be the real game-changer."