Should advertisers have to pay more for 100% viewability?

Premium publishers are beginning to offer advertisers 100 per cent viewability – but of course it comes at a premium. Should advertisers have to pay extra for guaranteed viewability, something that many brands expect as standard?

Of course the viewability discussion has been raging for some time, with two polarised views.

In June, Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer, said: “How much of an ad do [consumers] have to see before you pay for it? What percentage should we be paying for? I’m very clear, it should be 100 per cent”.

However, it is generally accepted that 100 per cent viewability isn’t practical; you can’t guarantee that an ad is seen by a human.

See ‘Do marketers really need 100 per cent viewability for digital ads?’ in which Mark Finney, ISBA’s director of media & advertising, explains: “100 per cent viewability could actually harm the effectiveness of campaigns and lead to a significant increase in CPMs. Lower viewability targets may make more sense, especially for larger formats.”

See also ”Advertisers are shooting themselves in the foot by demanding 100 per cent” which states that the only way we could have a 100 per cent standard is for publishers to over-deliver impressions with every campaign.

When it comes to measuring viewability, there is still a problem with discrepancies. Buyers’ and publishers’ measurement vendors can come up with significantly different estimates of viewability. And of course forcing publishers to offer 100 per cent viewability might force all ads to be served above the fold.

Last month Lumen, a research company, reported that only 44 per cent of digital display ads were viewed. And out of these, only 9 per cent were viewed for more than a second, with only 4 per cent receiving more than two seconds of engagement.

Lumen went on to describe the viewability standard, established by the UK’s Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS), the independent body that defines best practice and standards for online ad trading, as “ludricous”.

The JICWEBS standard specifies that at least 50 per cent of a display ad needs to be viewed for at least a second.

Lumen doesn't appreciate that the standard is simply a practical guide to advertisers and agencies specifying the minimum obligation. It isn’t mandatory. A number of advertisers, such as Kelloggs, and their media agencies, have agreed on their own requirements, for example stating that they require at least 70 per cent or 80 per cent of a display ad to be seen for at least five seconds. And that’s all fine and dandy.

As Nick Reid, Tube Mogul’s managing director, said recently, “Publishers, agencies and advertisers should treat guidelines from the IAB (in UK) or the MRC (in US) as a minimum requirement rather than a threshold, and create their own expectations on ad viewability.”

In response to advertisers and media agencies demanding 100 per cent viewability, UK premium publishers are now beginning to offer it. For example last month the Telegraph offered 100 per cent viewability for 10 seconds. The catch being that quality media comes at a price – a 40 per cent premium.

Jim Freeman, Telegraph Media Group’s commercial director of display sales & trading, was recently quoted as claiming that “confidence in digital as an effective advertising platform is at an all-time low”. As well as being concerned about viewability, advertisers are certainly worried about issues such as ad blocking, brand safety and fraud.

However, these concerns haven’t yet resulted in the migration of ad budgets from digital. Last year digital ad spend increased to £8.6bn, up over 16 per cent. Display advertising, so often criticised for being bland and lacking creativity, increased by 25 per cent to exceed £3bn.

But haven’t we forgotten someone? Yes, the Telegraph reader. It has been widely reported that humans have shorter attention spans than goldfish, thanks to smartphones. How will readers react to 10-second ads if the average human attention span is now eight seconds?

David Ellison is marketing services manager at ISBA, whose members can get an update direct from Jim Freeman, who will be making a presentation at the next Digital Action Group meeting on 14 September.

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