Pork bellies, from Orange Juice and…Viewable Impressions

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

Ad viewability has been a hot topic in our industry for several years now. I’ve attended countless meetings and events dedicated to the subject, including a rather vibrant all – comers “Town Hall” session in Phoenix last year where buyers and sellers swapped opinions about measurability, flaws in the tools, discrepancies, and the general angst of moving to an industry base standard. And so it came to pass, we finally agreed we would work to a minimum of 50 per cent of the ad viewable for at least one second for standard inventory.

During a recent conversation with one of my senior members – a bright chap called Tom Barnett, chief executive of Switch Concepts – the comparison with commodity trading came up.

Why shouldn’t display advertising be traded like any other commodity which has to adhere to quality standards – like pork bellies or frozen orange juice? I was reminded of the 1983 movie, ‘Trading Places’, starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, in which a street hustler changes places with a young commodity broker to fulfil a wager set by the wise old Exchange director, Randolph Duke who explains: “We are 'commodities brokers', William. Now, what are commodities?

"Commodities are agricultural products... like coffee that you had for breakfast... wheat, which is used to make bread... pork bellies, which is used to make bacon, which you might find in a 'bacon and lettuce and tomato' sandwich.

And then there are other commodities, like frozen orange juice... and GOLD. Though, of course, gold doesn't grow on trees like oranges”.

The thing is, online inventory does grow on trees. With Google indexing around 50 billion of the estimated 14.3 trillion pages on the web, it’s no wonder advertisers are keen to appear on quality sites, in the right environment, and be seen. But given the huge volume of impacts traded every day, is it realistic for the client to expect every impression to be viewed? Let’s revisit our frozen orange juice commodity. To claim that juice is “pure” the Food Standards Agency (FSA) states:

“Fruit juice: 'Pure' is used only for non-sweetened fruit juice but may be used for concentrated juice reconstituted with water….The term 'pure' should not be used on those products containing added sugar, lemon juice or ascorbic acid.”

So how might this idea play out for online display trading? Well, the equivalent of the FSA is the Media Ratings Council (MRC) in the US and JICWEBS in the UK, which provides accreditation for viewability technology.

But of course the viewability tools don’t measure in the same way, so major discrepancies exist between the vendors (remember the same pain we went through with third-party ad serving 15 years ago?).

So given all these variables, it might be agreed that 70 per cent of all monthly impressions for a campaign must be brand safe and viewable to meet the commodity criteria, and therefore be considered “pure”. (Incidentally, the non-viewable impressions still have a data value for retargeting purposes.)

If he was around today, I’m sure Randolph Duke would agree that if digital were traded like frozen orange juice, with standards for purity, then by definition the quality, viewable inventory would become a premium commodity. And we all know what that means.

Buy! Buy! Buy!

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