Viewability’s Double-Edged Sword

scottknoll_updated"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 Scott Knoll, CEO and president at Integral Ad Science.

When you look at the evolution of digital advertising, it makes sense that viewability has become a leading metric and top concern for marketers.

The goal of delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right customer has not changed. However, when as much as 60% of digital ads never have a chance to be seen by the targeted consumer, challenges arise for both the buy and sell sides of the media business.

In today’s digital landscape, viewability has become the currency for transactions. The challenge is that viewability does not describe how effective an ad was, whether it was seen by target audiences or even if it was seen at all. Rather, it describes how well an ad is positioned for consumers to be able to see it.

As a starting point, it makes sense that the industry has been focused on viewability through a media-centric lens. With this approach, media buyers and sellers can determine whether specific ads are in view and which ad units and pages offer the greatest chance for being seen. The end goal then becomes to only buy ads that are viewable. After all, advertising has no chance of working unless consumers have the opportunity to see the ads.

But the entire digital advertising ecosystem exists to support brands and their efforts to reach and influence consumers. Companies like AOL are now employing data scientists to advance viewability optimization capabilities and earlier this year, GroupM created a new role to fight low viewability rates and other challenges that brands encounter every day.

And although brands want their ad campaigns to have high viewability rates, more importantly, they want to ensure that their messages have an impact on targeted consumers. While these two points sound indistinguishable, they are not because all media are not created equal.

When you shift the focus of viewability to the consumer’s experience with those ads, you’ll see that exposure to and frequency of messaging had a massive impact on targeted consumers and, thus, on brand objectives. The natural assumption has been that buying media with high viewability rates will lead to increased attention and a lift in performance. However, I’ve seen a consistent trend that questions this assumption: Half of the consumers exposed to viewable ads typically only see the units once, for less than one second.

In my experience, for the remaining 50% of users who were exposed to a viewable ad, the cumulative exposure time for most is usually less than five seconds for the whole campaign. Across display and video campaigns and a mix of industries, the trend is consistent across the board. This suggests that in digital environments, brands are underexposing their targeted audience.

Consider this: Next year will be a milestone for advertising, with eMarketer predicting digital spend will surpass television. This is a key indication of how technology has profoundly altered our media consumption patterns while creating an uncharted territory for brands. Traditionally, marketers have planned their media to reach customers based on reach and frequency or exposure and repetition. TV commercials are purchased in 15-, 30- and 60-second slots because they give enough time for our memory banks to engage and trigger recall, awareness and, ultimately, impact the bottom line.

As we continue to fragment our media consumption across multiple devices, the need to engage brand memories and trigger recall of messages must change. Brands that increase frequency caps and focus on buying impressions that are in view for longer periods of time improve brand and performance metrics.

Since there is currently little cost difference between an ad that is in view for a second and one in view for a longer duration, buying ad impressions with longer exposure times does not have to dramatically increase media costs. Ultimately, however, the industry will need to innovate to allow brands to control and pay for exposure time at the consumer level.

Over the past decade the industry has made all kinds of progress in enabling audience targeting around behavioral and demographic data. As brands continue striving to engage and trigger memories so consumers consider and buy their products, it’s not a stretch to think that making a targeting decision based on how long and often a consumer has already seen a particular ad is coming in the near future.

Technically, it’s already possible, but as with any change in this industry, it will take at least another year before it becomes mainstream practice.

Follow Integral Ad Science (@integralads) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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