The CMO with the viewability headache – how online advertising is facing up to its biggest challenges

Guy Phillipson is chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB). His monthly blog examines the latest developments in the online ad space.

The IAB US Annual Leadership Meeting (the ALM) may not have a very fancy title, but for me it’s one of the most influential and useful events in the calendar.

Always in early February, somewhere hot – this time Phoenix, Arizona – it’s grown to attract over 1000 business leaders from the internet advertising world, all there to network and talk turkey about the most important issues facing our global medium. In other words, sort stuff out!

And the host with the most is my good friend and opposite number, Randall Rothenberg, the president and CEO of IAB US (known to many as R2), and he’s ably assisted by his CMO, David Doty (known as D2 – geddit!?)

R2’s opening address was a genuine tour de force, culminating in ‘the six questions’ – the ones we at the IAB get asked all the time:

  1. When will the viewable impression be the new currency?
  2. Is native advertising a fad or a fixture?
  3. When will we tame the wild west of mobile?
  4. Can we make programmatic work for everybody?
  5. How will the industry eliminate fraudulent traffic?
  6. What will it take to close the skills gap and increase diversity in digital media?

So nothing tricky then!

The ALM boasts an enviable line-up of expert speakers on the stage (more anon), but it’s at the Town Hall sessions where the best debates occur, and this year was no exception. At our IAB International Breakfast Town Hall we examined question one, the viewable impression, and I was at the top table to witness this priceless exchange, which I paraphrase here:

CMO of BIG Bank: “OK, so I had a few bourbons last night and this viewability thing is giving me a headache. Say I went to the drug store for a bottle of 100 aspirin to help me through today, but later discovered the bottle only contains 49 pills... I’d be mad as hell. It’s the same with digital display – I expect 100 per cent viewability!”

R2 (quick as flash).“No, no, no! To turn that analogy around; when you opened the bottle, you didn’t know how many pills were actually in it. So you employed a pill counter, and he came up with a number. Obviously, you complained to the drug store manager, but he couldn’t tell how many were in the bottle either, so he employed his own pill counter, who came up with a different number again! That’s the problem we’ve got to sort out.”

The Bank CMO laughed and took it in good part. And as an industry we are committed to 100 per cent viewabilty, but with discrepancies between the vendors (the pill counters) currently as high as 50 per cent, largely because they count multiple fields (like exposure and dwell-time) in different ways, there’s work to do on vendor consistency.

Just like third party ad serving was riddled with measurement inconsistencies, but settled down to an industry standard of 10 per cent discrepancies, so will viewability. And then the banker might be lucky enough to get 110 pills.

Indeed, our industry has a strong track record of coming together to fix problems and set standards – from the format of the original banner to addressing privacy concerns with global good practice in behavioural advertising through the Ad Choices programme.

And in a masterstroke of timing, IAB UK has taken the lead with new guidelines for native distribution formats, to provide practical steps for businesses to make it easier for consumers to spot native advertising.

I say good timing, because the theme of this year’s ALM was ‘Content and the Kingmakers’. As the content powerbase is moving from big, traditional media brands to agencies, digital publishers, pure-plays, and brands themselves, the line-up of speakers on day two was one to savour:

Linda Boff of General Electric on brands being ‘true to thyself’ – quite right, see above.

Erin McPherson of Maker Studios introducing the new YouTube stars taking over; cue PewDiePie.

Mark Thompson of The New York Times proclaiming ‘the battle will be won or lost on the smartphone’. Mark also predicts that whatever can be automated will be automated.

But, for me, one of the most profound and exciting thoughts came from Jonah Goodhart, the co-founder of viewability company MOAT.

Goodhart was frank about the challenges we face with viewability and non-human traffic. But with MOAT measuring 50 metrics, he showed that viewability works – for driving brand recall, perception and purchase intent – and it drives premium CPMs, too. But that’s not it. With time spent in digital rising rapidly, we need to move beyond human and viewable to the Eldorado of attention.

The technology our industry is developing will drive the attention economy. Attention is what marketers crave, and I believe it will be the new brand media metric.

We just have a bit of plumbing to sort out first. Then our CMO with the headache will have a currency he can bank on.

Guy Phillipson is chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB). He tweets @GuyPhillipson

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Guy Phillipson

Guy Phillipson is chairman of iCrossing UK and former chief executive editor of the Internet Advertising Bureau, UK

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