"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Mike Peralta, CEO at AudienceScience.
As the digital media industry continues to push for a deeper understanding of ad viewability, some advertisers, including Havas, GroupM and Unilever, are making it a priority and demanding a higher standard.
From others, we’re seeing strange compromises, including those for whom “scale trumps viewability.” It’s baffling to me that in 2015, these could be seen as two separate advertising tactics, which raises the question of whether it’s more important for advertisers to simply spend their budget or have their ads seen by potential customers.
“Scale” in this instance means bulk, and the advertiser that prioritizes bulk buys over viewable impressions is happy to buy more impressions on the chance that some ads with a lower probability of coming into view are actually seen by consumers. The advertiser is playing a numbers game and is, in essence, gambling its budget.
Economics certainly play a role here . When more advertisers compete for guaranteed in-view impressions, prices should increase. In theory, that would also drive down the price of impressions that are less likely to fall in-view. So, going for “scale” becomes an economic decision. The budget buys more impressions and creates the chance that even more consumers will see an ad message than if the advertiser directed its budget toward viewable impressions. But the odds of that actually happening are slim, which is usually the case with gambling.
Comparisons To Ad Fraud
There are several parallels to ad fraud here, and although fraud and viewability are separate issues, they are certainly intertwined because they both represent waste. Fraudulent and nonviewable impressions have the same end result of an advertiser paying for an impression that is never seen by a consumer. No one wants to buy impressions generated by software designed to rig the system.
If a lack of viewability achieves the same result, shouldn’t it draw the same amount of ire?
Scale: Impossible Without Viewability
The difference here may simply be a knowledge gap. Scale was a tactic perpetuated by networks and exchanges that sold long-tail inventory to advertisers on the promise that it would hit more consumers for the money. This isn’t to say that reaching consumers at scale isn’t important, but the industry has advanced to the point where that tactic is no longer sufficient by itself.
Viewability must be intertwined with scale. Marketers who emphasize scale without factoring in viewability aren’t actually achieving true scale. They are chasing the illusion of scale over putting their message in front of real consumers.
Advertisers who play the scale game may say that they knowingly accept the risk of nonviewable impressions. Many would make the same argument for fraudulent impressions. Marketers are plagued by a “spend it or lose it” budget situation, so their plans are built around the fact that a certain percentage will go toward waste. But now they have tools to distinguish where the waste comes from.
It’s this kind of thinking, however, that allows these issues to continue in perpetuity. Advertisers have far more control over viewability than they may know. Premium publishers such as Condé Nast are responding to the demands of major advertisers and agreeing to work on higher viewability. And while more publishers will respond to the pressure, it doesn’t mean advertisers have to return to the days of direct-only buys. Technology and programmatic buying make it possible to ensure that the majority of impressions are viewable as well.
The Media Ratings Council’s viewability standard, which calls for at least 50% of an ad to be in-view for at least one second, was long overdue. Buying so that a majority of inventory is in-view is possible if brands so choose, but many still believe that scale and viewability are separate choices.
Reaching consumers at scale is still possible, but advertisers need to know that scale now goes hand in hand with viewability. Choosing one without the other is the equivalent of throwing ad budgets in the trash.