How Do We Define an Ad View?

On Tuesday, Jim Meskauskas wrote an article entitled “In Search of Standards” that dealt with definitions of common online advertising units of measure. While I slightly disagree with a point made in Jim’s assessment of measurements used by online salespeople, his article raises an important point: Media buyers need to know exactly what it is that they’re buying before signing an insertion order.

The varying definitions of the term “ad view” were the subject of the first article I ever wrote for ClickZ back in March of 1998. (Actually, it was “Who’s Marketing Online?” which was subsequently bought out by ClickZ.) Since then, I don’t think there have been tremendous strides in determining exactly what constitutes an ad view.

Moreover, the industry seems to be OK with using the terms “ad view” and “impression” interchangeably. I’d like to offer up that perhaps they shouldn’t be. Take a look at the following example to understand why I think they should be two distinct terms:

Let’s say that Widget.com decides to sponsor the widget section of ZDNet. Included in the sponsorship is a 120×60 logo button in the left-hand corner, a 468×60 banner right next to it, and a 148×800 “skyscraper ad” on the right-hand side all on the same page. Every time that sponsor page loads, the ad server logs three ad views, but does that constitute three impressions? I’d argue that this is a single impression.

Sure, it’s a minor distinction at best. And most planners are smart enough to avoid getting charged for multiple ad views on the same page. However, there’s more to the controversy.

As an agency media planner, one of my goals is to make sure that I measure ad views as accurately as possible. Unless I decide to be ultra-anal and write tiny Java applets to tell my ad server that my ads were actually displayed in a browser, the closest I can get to actually determining whether my ads were displayed is to count the completed transfer of an ad graphic from my ad management system. That seems fair, no?

While this seems fair to me, it wouldn’t seem fair to many publishers. Publishers like to count ad requests the simple request by a browser for an ad graphic. Of course, the number of ad requests invariably ends up being quite a bit more than the number of completed transfers. While the difference may not end up being all that much on your average media buy, it would certainly be significant with respect to a portal deal or other large buy.

When I wrote the initial column in early ’98, there were already several discussions going full steam on the various online advertising discussion lists on the same topic. Now here’s the funny part… I’m not sure these issues ever got fully resolved. Almost 2.5 years later, we still don’t have a standardized definition of “ad view.” Assuming the average difference between ad requests and completed transfers is a conservative 5 percent, and assuming the $1.953 billion estimate of first quarter 2000 online ad expenditures is somewhat close to reality, the difference between the two definitions represents over $97 million in advertising. Maybe we should get a handle on this sometime soon

To refer back to Jim’s Tuesday article, I don’t think media planners and ad sales reps have a problem distinguishing between page views and ad views. (I’ve personally never had a rep try to sell me ads based on page view counts.) The real problem is a standard set of definitions for the terms we all sling around on a daily basis, “ad view” included. I, for one, would like to see these terms defined in such a way that the definitions could be used in contracts and insertion orders across the entire industry.

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