The first banner ad was posted online in 1994, marking the beginning of the digital advertising industry. In those early years, advertising online was an unpolished and somewhat awkward experience for the user, but marketers quickly realized the advantages of this novel, addressable, scalable, and measurable channel.
Since then, digital advertising has exploded into the powerhouse industry it is today, commanding just shy of 70 percent of advertising spend in the UK. However, despite all the progress made, there is one area that remains a sticking point for digital marketers: defining success.
When the Media Rating Council (MRC) and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) established the first guidelines for ad verification, marketers applauded across the globe, as they finally had a benchmark against which to measure their campaigns, with standardized targets for validity, viewability, and brand safety.
But the IAB and MRC guidelines came in response to the threats of fraud and malfeasance and were designed to ensure ads were reaching real people, not bots. They were not designed to explore attention signals or help advertisers measure the success of their ads in achieving their business objectives. It’s time for that paradigm to change.
What makes an ad ‘successful’?
The definition of success will differ depending on the brand, industry, or campaign, so agreeing on a standard benchmark for success is always going to be a challenge. But in broad terms, ad performance and success should be based on the larger business goals—such as sales lift, brand awareness, or customer acquisition—and whether the advertising achieved or influenced those goals. Measuring against those types of outcomes reveals the true impact of an ad.
Verification is everything that happens prior to this type of success measurement. Put simply, ad verification is the table stakes to play the game. It gives the ad a chance to succeed by ensuring the ad is in play, with a relevant audience and an opportunity to drive action. The success measurement is what happens next, once the ad is served, to determine its true impact.
Verification is the first step in measuring ad performance
Let’s be clear: Ad verification is one of the most important innovations of the ad tech industry, and it is critical for today’s digital advertiser. However, verification needs to be the first step in the measurement journey, and not just the destination. By looking beyond verification, marketers can improve their reporting and ad measurement by exploring performance indicators that reflect how an ad is impacting real business outcomes.
It’s time for digital advertising to deliver better success metrics
The reason marketers need to define success beyond verification is two-fold.
First, consider that digital advertising spend is expected to reach £16.21 billion in the UK next year, dwarfing estimates for traditional media. By 2023, this number is expected to grow to £20.74 billion. With digital continuing to demand such enormous investment, it’s little surprise that industry leaders like P&G’s Marc Pritchard have proclaimed that, “the days of digital getting a pass are over.”
If digital continues to demand such significant financial investment, there needs to be a better way to quantify and improve return for those who are putting up the money. And that return should be more reflective of performance in a traditional sense—i.e. how ads drive outcomes for campaigns and businesses overall.
Second, when marketers use valid, viewable, and brand safe impressions as the end-goal, they often optimize towards those metrics, rather than business outcomes, thus missing the opportunity to measure against deeper performance metrics.
For example, when campaigns are optimized for viewability, using the MRC requirement of 50% of the ad pixels viewable for at least one second, advertisers will just end up buying more one-second impressions. This means that while they will meet the industry standard for viewability, the overall advertising performance, and impact, may still be poor.
Attention: a better indicator of performance
In a perfect world, marketers would be able to attribute advertising to sales, brand awareness, or other relevant core business objectives, consistently without fail. But marketers don’t always have that luxury. Advertising is still a creative function and measuring its impact will always involve some art, as well as science, despite the improvements afforded through technological innovation. What can be done, though, is a better effort to explore attention signals, and their role in driving outcomes for brands.
Empirical evidence suggests that more exposure increases ad awareness and consumer intent. And every marketer, in some way or another, wants their target audience to spend more time with their ads, as this is what ultimately drives outcomes. Attention signals—metrics such as interaction rate, screen real estate, active time on screen, audible and visible on complete—help assess the quality of time a user spends with an ad. This helps marketers assess ad frequency and the overall quality of their impressions—producing a better, holistic view of advertising performance.
Ensuring advertisers get what they paid for
It’s not surprising that verification has become the de facto measure of success. While the industry has made tremendous strides in measuring outcomes, verification is still one of the few standardized benchmarks for ad performance, and it has great utility in ensuring ads are seen in safe and fraud-free environments.
Thankfully, after 25 years of digital advertising, ad measurement is quickly evolving into a sophisticated discipline that uses a wide range of advanced metrics to help marketers understand performance on a deeper level. These metrics, and the underlying consumer attention signals they measure, are the only way to ensure marketers are getting the value they paid for when they invest in digital.