The Interactive Advertising Bureau, Media Ratings Council, and other associations recently completed a study of viewable impressions conducted with 17 advertisers across 12 agencies that encompassed roughly 3 billion impressions. The MRC aggregated and analyzed the data, and released a handful of nuggets publicly.
Jessica Sanfilippo, Group Media Director with participating agency 360i, discussed some details of the study in an AdExchanger column this week, noting:
The results are a bafflingly broad range of anywhere from 7.3% to 78.6% of measured (that is an important distinction – a large gap in measurability is a separate challenge) impressions in the pilot that were actually qualified as “viewable.” The variation was perceived across campaign, ad unit size, and category of site (i.e., network or publisher)... The inconsistency alone pinpoints exactly why this is such a pivotal issue for our industry to tackle."
Meanwhile the ability to measure whether a campaign is viewable remains difficult. That measurement is seriously hindered by cross-domain iFrames and other factors, MRC says. For example in the pilot program, the iFrames issue was behind three-quarters of the unmeasured impressions for ad network placements, and more than one-third of unmeasured impressions for publisher placements.
Sherrill Mane, the IAB's SVP for research, measurement and analytics, told AdExchanger that the essential finding is that it would be "premature" to recognize viewable impressions as a metric for analyzing online advertising.
"There is huge variability in the proportion of total impressions served that cannot be measured," Mane said. "We know the overwhelming majority of those obscured impressions are being obscured by cross domain iFrames. There are two buckets to deal with: the viewable bucket and the measurable bucket. In some cases, the unmeasurable piece of the bucket is so large that you don’t know how to evaluate a campaign. So we must solve for measurability."
For now, the IAB will be 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, with the MRC's support.
In particular, SafeFrame 1.0 offers mechanisms to measure whether or not impressions are viewable. Viewable impressions are at the heart of Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS), a cross-platform initiative that is being promoted by the IAB and its related ad industry trade organizations, the ANA and the 4A’s. The IAB wants to propose new industry standard metrics and advertising “currency” to enhance evaluation of digital media and cross-platform comparison for brand marketing. The adoption of the SafeFrame specifications will is considered "critical" for implementation of these 3MS standards, Mane said.
For now, the MRC and IAB want to send a message about the limitations of viewability.
At the moment, a standard is in place for what constitutes a "viewable impression," which is 50 percent of pixels in view for a minimum one second. But that's not where it ends, largely because iFrames block so much information.
"We see that as the standard, however, we also recognize the need for an exception of certain very large ads like the IAB Rising Stars," Mane said. "Those are now undergoing a series of tests for what the standard should be for that category, how would it be implemented? What is also being looked at is the notion of interactivity within an ad, such as a click or something that clearly implies a person must have seen the ad."
The big question a number of attendees we spoke with at this past week's IAB Ad Operations Summit, where Mane provided a presentation with an update on SafeFrames, is what the industry can accomplish in the next few months.
"The plan was to test viewability metrics through 2013, and that’s still ongoing and on target," Mane said. "You could argue that seems at ambitious by this point and there are some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. But this is essential in moving beyond online as a great direct response medium to one that encompasses more branding campaigns."
Update: An earlier version suggested the IAB solely decided what data to release from pilot program. In fact, public results were determined by members of the 3MS initiative, in particular the MRC. Additionally, the story previously suggested the parties withheld data they had planned to release, when actually the pilot program was intentionally narrow in scope, according to MRC.
Zach Rodgers contributed.