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Online ads can become ‘electronic wallpaper’ if not planned well – brands respond to Google ad viewability study

Brands and agencies have had mixed reactions to Google’s viewability study, which revealed more than half of online ads are not seen by consumers.

The study, conducted across Google’s display network and Doubleclick ad exchange, used the IAB standards, which specify that for a display ad to be in-view half the pixels must be in the viewable portion of an internet browser for at least one second.

The fact 56 per cent of the ads tracked in the study were deemed not in-view has caused concern among some advertisers, including Kellogg's.

Marie Curie Cancer Care head of digital, Claire Hazle, said the figure highlights how easily a brand’s display campaign can become “electronic wallpaper” if not planned thoroughly.

“For a charity like Marie Curie, any marketing channel that has a question mark over cut through and cost-effectiveness is a worry. However, I think the study simply confirms what every good digital marketer has suspected for a while simply from studying their media performance reports.

“Online advertising can be a great complementary part of the digital mix (particularly at the top of the funnel for awareness generation as well as dynamic retargeting closer to the point of conversion), as long as it is carefully thought through in terms of placement, purpose, objective and messaging.

“Otherwise it can simply become electronic wallpaper that doesn’t align with how we consume digital media. More important for me personally is to create effective multi-channel campaigns that are personalised to the individual, serving content that people actually choose to engage with.”

Ad accountability

The issue of viewability, which refers to whether an ad is actually in-view to readers on publishers’ websites, has become a hot topic over the last year as advertisers have increasingly questioned the accountability of their media investment.

However, several agencies and brands have been unfazed by the Google report.

Sammy Austin, head of programmatic at Moneysupermarket, which took its programmatic trading in-house last year after building its own brand trading desk, said advertiser reaction to the study will vary widely, resulting in some “starting to question” their media buying and reconsidering their investment, while others will take it “with a pinch of salt”.

She added: “Viewability is still in its infancy; there are discrepancies between how the various vendors measure it, how we should look at these findings and how these should be applied to improve campaign performance. Over time these challenges will iron themselves out as we work towards a more standardised solution. It's promising for advertisers that the issues around viewability are being addressed and that progress is being made to eliminate our concerns.”

Marcus Frost, senior marketing director for EMEA and APAC at Motorola, said: “The notion that the majority of online ads are not seen is not a great concern because the predominant method we use are review sites, engaging through social media and then more tactically placing ads, which we’ve seen a lot of success from.

"We’re able to do A/B testing and test out different types of creative for all kinds of different platforms an placements and super size the ones that work really well. If we get double or triple the results, we keep over erring until we hit threshold. That paid aspect of digital is still in the innovation and experimentation camp."

ComScore was among the first to release an industry viewability study in June last year as part of its Validated Campaign Essentials service, which revealed 46 per cent of online ads were deemed never seen in the US.

TMW joint chief executive Chris Pearce said what's more alarming is that the figure seems to have increased. “The scary thing for brand owners is that 18 months later the viewability figures have got worse. I would also argue that the viewability benchmark itself is seriously questionable. An ad that I can ‘see’ 50 per cent of, for less than a second, is pushing low level processing to the limits.

"The [Google] report does at least point a way forward to better understanding of prime positions and sizes, more transparency, together with a nod towards programmatic buying as a way to improve this woeful state of affairs”.

Meanwhile Dentsu Aegis Network UK chief executive, Tracy de Groose, said advertisers are more concerned by accountability than viewability. “The fact that more than half of online display ads are not seen by people is not a concern to advertisers. Not when they’re paying for results.

“The shift is not in the viewability of ads; it's increasingly about being able to pay for results, so advertisers don’t need to worry about which bit is seen or not. You only pay for the ads that are tangibly making a difference. I think clients are very aware that this is where we’re moving to. It’s why you’re seeing more ad budgets flowing through digital channels because there’s more accountability.”

The report also highlighted that ads above-the-fold had an average 68 per cent viewability rating, while below-the-fold was at 40 per cent.

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Jessica Davies

All by Jessica