Digital trading: Why invisible ads aren’t so bad

John Wanamaker, a merchant in the early 20th century: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Over a hundred years later into the 21st century advertisers are still saying the same thing.

Viewability is currently a hot topic amongst advertisers, some of whom are becoming increasingly concerned that they are paying for online display ads that are not actually seen. When do we hear about TV ads not being watched, or how about radio ads not being heard? Or even newspaper ads when the page is not turned?

Now we know each medium shares the same problem, with the vast amount of served impressions going unseen and labelled as wasted. Digital advertising is being held to a higher standard than any other advertising medium. It is without question that digital advertising measurements are leading the way with the support of the MRC and 3MS. With such phenomenal achievements in our industry it baffles me why I keep on hearing talk of such poor viewability statistics. Before we know it, ad tech companies will share the frustrations of John McEnroe, saying, 'You can’t be serious, that ad was in!'

Although I’m supportive of all industry bodies striving to implement industry standard acceptance levels, I would also like to challenge them. The IAB has set a target of 70 per cent for viewable impressions. While the digital media industry is well on its way to achieving this goal, there are still significant obstacles that we need to overcome. For example, non-measured impressions should not be counted as non-viewable. The technology required to fully measure all served viewable impressions just isn’t there yet. To meet the threshold set by the IAB is optimistic for ATDs, ad networks and even direct publishers at this time. Recently, I attended a meeting where a global publisher highlighted they have 6bn ad impressions per month to sell but could not answer how much of their inventory is viewable. Why not?

Let’s not fall into the trap of believing that non-viewable ads are completely wasted. Even if some banner ads are invisible to the human eye, these ads still help audience based targeting companies (like Audience2Media) to capture data points from the ad calls to our servers logging important information about the websites visited to enhance behavioural advertising. The end result is delivering targeted ads to anonymous users online based on their web traversal data driving high brand engagement. Consequently, the advertiser receives a positive ROI.

Given that we are still far from being able to accurately measure viewability, we need to start thinking of ways to improve viewability on our own. There are many reasons why some ads may not be viewable, from the format of the website to the design of the ad creative itself. Some ads have slow load times, some may appear outside a viewable browser window, fake publisher traffic from ad exchanges, and some are only viewable if you scroll down the webpage. Each of these points should be tackled individually and with haste. Admittedly, waste in digital advertising is an issue, albeit a lot less severe in comparison to TV, radio and print. Put simply, I believe it can be improved immediately if media is sold, purchased and applied effectively.

Furthermore, I believe the MRC should toughen its selection and accreditation process in order to maintain and improve the current standards. I fear that an over populated market of measurement companies applying their own calculations and algorithms may potentially create larger discrepancies on advertising viewability statistics.

Today, we can all agree that it is not possible to start charging purely on viewable impressions. The discussion on viewability is debatable from all aspects, but I believe brand marketers understand the primary goal is to deliver a positive ROI back to the advertiser on each of their campaigns. With this in mind, allow me to make it simple. There are two types of advertising, visible and invisible, both having a role to play in digital. The subject matter of viewability needs to expand to the technical side, not just the commercial.

Tony Laskar is founder and chief executive of Audience2Media

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