Ad buyers and sellers invest more in counting only ads that are within eyeshot of consumers.
Momentum continues to build for industry-wide adoption of a "viewable" impression standard for measuring online campaigns. Speakers at the SES New York conference discussed uptake of the would-be metric, which may eventually come to replace the "served impression" as the basis for campaign reporting.
The difference between "served" and "viewable" can be simply a matter of an ad being delivered below the fold on a page where the end user never scrolls down. Or it can be more technical, involving ads that are blocked, viewed for less than a second, concealed behind other page elements, or rendered incompletely.
Bianca Gardner, associate media director, digital activation at Horizon Media, says her agency began using viewable impressions on a test basis in August 2011. The result was an almost immediate impact on how Horizon reports back to clients. Among the benefits: basing reports strictly on in-view impressions leads to higher click-through rates as non-visible ads are subtracted from the total impression count. That looks good for campaign effectiveness.
"Without question an ad that is never in view has zero value," said Gardner during a panel discussion on the topic.
Last September, the Interactive Advertising Bureau's 3Ms (Making Measurement Make Sense) initiative called on media buyers and sellers to move to the viewable impression standard. "Viewable exposures are increasingly the norm across other media and better address the needs of brand marketers," it said in a statement.
There are several companies with products to support this migration - including C3 Metrics, RealVu, and comScore - but little agreement on the size of the problem.
In January, comScore released a report that found 31 percent of online ads purchased by 12 major brands were not viewable by the end user. But RealVu and C3 maintain the situation is even more dire, with up to 80 percent of ads never within eyeshot.
ComScore launched its solution, called validated Campaign Essentials, in January. The product looks at not only whether an ad is in-view, but also whether it was targeted to the right geography, appeared in a brand-safe environment, and was "absent of fraud."
Among the three platforms, RealVu is the only one with full Media Rating Council accreditation, but C3 and ComScore are in the process of applying for it.
Advertisers can use viewable impressions reports to optimize display campaigns around ad networks, properties, ad types, and page placements that serve the most valid, viewable impressions. Other value will come as marketers recalibrate click-through rates based on ads that were actually visible to users. Average global response rates could rise substantially. For example, C3 estimates banner CTRs may be 180 percent higher than generally assumed.
For media agencies, getting ad networks to accept tags from these vendors can be a tough sell, but some premium digital media companies evidently see it as a means to distinguish themselves on quality and service.
Lisa Valentino, VP digital and mobile advertising sales for ESPN, suggested her company can only gain by embracing transparency in ad reporting. The brand is working with RealVu and its media agencies to support viewable impression reporting for advertisers that want it.
Another challenge is that the push for a viewable impression, ostensibly designed to reduce waste and cut costs, could - ironically - lead to price increases.
Dana Todd, SVP, marketing at Performics, made the point during an interview at SES but suggested John Wanamaker needn't turn over in his grave.
"The more layers you add in to correct for that 50 percent 'waste reduction' can end up costing you potentially 50 percent more on the buy," she said. "With additive layers of technology, data and cleansing, plus now a publisher's only allowed to charge me for every other impression - it may ultimately drive up prices. They still have to make a living. So it's not ultimately a cost savings value, it's more of a data purification value. Knowing that an impression is validated as viewable will help us accurately ascertain attribution more easily."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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