2018 should be the year for trading on viewability – here’s how to get started

Alex Tait is founder of Entropy, a media, content and digital consultancy and co-founder of Entropy Data, specialising in GDPR compliance.

Alex has worked in senior marketing leadership roles at diverse companies including American Express, Royal Mail and Kellogg’s. Most recently he was media & marketing services director, UK & Ireland at Unilever.

The actions the industry and brands are taking around 'cleaning up the digital supply chain' don’t need to be repeated here as they’ve had significant coverage in the trade press.

However, although talked about in industry forums and by advertisers, in my view one of the key enablers for the industry to drive positive change has been conspicuous by its absence in such plans and predictions I’ve read so far for 2018. Brands moving to a model that trades on viewability.

It has become something of a cliché when making predictions to say, ‘the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed’. In this case, though, I think William Gibson’s remark is wholly applicable. It is also what gives me confidence that it will be increasingly adopted in 2018.

The US Media Ratings Council gave ‘viewability’ the green light as a trading criterion for online ads some years ago, and it is well known in the industry that several global players have implemented this model, including Unilever and Proctor & Gamble.

There is also the precedent that, in 2015, the largest media agency in Austria, Mediacom, persuaded a majority of publishers to sell their inventory on the basis of an independent viewability definition agreed by many of the leading advertisers in that market.

I thought Anant Joshi, formerly UK and Ireland country manager at Meetrics, summed it up well when he cited the successful roll-out of this initiative, “manifested itself most obviously in publishers and advertisers getting a better understanding of the good and bad areas of the site … and advertisers optimising towards the areas that displayed a high amount of user engagement with the content … which led to longer ad visibility, improving branding and awareness”.

Following this Group M has set up viewability trading agreements with selected publishers in Germany for 2018. It also made an announcement about its global viewability standards for display and video across both social and publisher websites. Being aware that negotiations are already in progress between the larger members of the ecosystem can only help to clear the path for smaller clients and agencies to start adopting this mode of trading.

To facilitate this change further this week I'm proud to announce guidelines we’ve developed to help advertisers move to this viewability trading model. We’ve produced them with the independent media agency Goodstuff and Isba to act as a catalyst encouraging advertisers to take this trading strategy forward.

I believe they are a global first – no other market has such openly available guidance and they are designed to be short, concise and informative in order to help you assess whether to adopt this approach and how you might apply it to your brand. We won’t repeat them all here, as Isba members will have access to them in full but they address common misconceptions and misunderstandings on such topics as ‘Does viewability apply to direct response advertising?’ In fact, our position is that it applies primarily to brand spend, although some advertisers may find the concept useful also when optimising and attributing digital media in the course of conversion.

While I am a firm believer that this is the future, we need to be aware that until this method of trading becomes widely adopted and established there are both potential challenges and areas where care is needed in adopting this model. For example, publishers may charge premiums, and it may lead to you as a brand needing to reduce the number of formats you work with. In addition some publishers may find it difficult to forecast the extent to which they would need to over-deliver impressions in order to achieve an agreed viewable impressions target, and this could, of course, impact your ad serving costs.

There is the fact that currently there are some formats and platforms that are hard for the viewability tech providers to track. However, as has frequently been said in the discussions around ad verification, all suppliers, especially the larger players, need to accept greater responsibility for the content they distribute, and work to enable third party verification and viewability tracking.

I believe that moving to this model is crucial if we are to ensure that confidence and trust are maximised, so that digital can be traded in a similar way to other media.

Ad verification is, after all, quite simply about ensuring that as a brand you get what you pay for. We should work to enable all brands to have trading models that synergise with the tracking of viewability.

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Alex Tait

Alex Tait is the founder of Entropy, the media, content and digital consultancy, and co-founder of its sister consultancy Entropy Data which specialises in providing GDPR compliance and data good practice for brands.

Alex has worked in senior marketing leadership roles at diverse companies including American Express, Royal Mail and Kellogg’s. Most recently he was media & marketing services director, UK & Ireland at Unilever.

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