What You Need to Know About Viewable Impressions

Early this year comScore had the digital marketing industry buzzing when it reported that 31 percent of online ads go unseen. Not only are the ads not viewed, but they can’t be, because they’re placed in areas of the site page that users don’t typically see.

While some research firms and vendors with products to sell are notorious for distributing alarmist reports, this is one case where the industry hasn’t hesitated to take heed. In the months that have followed the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB’s) release, “viewable impressions” have been top of mind for planners, buyers, vendors, and publishers everywhere. So strongly does the IAB feel about their importance that it hopes to influence an industry shift from a served impression standard to one that focuses on viewed impressions and “real exposures.” If all goes well, its “3MS” initiative (Making Measurement Make Sense) will be in effect by early 2013, and both advertisers and publishers will be using its online Gross Ratings Point metric to “provide reach and frequency reporting of viewable impressions.”

Eager as digital professionals are to listen, they aren’t without their concerns. Brand marketers have questions, as one might expect in a situation where the standard approach they’ve abided for years is about to be flipped on its head. That said, brands would be remiss to scorn an initiative that could result in more effective ad campaigns. We all understand that due to page placement, load times, and other unknown factors that compromise display ad visibility, an ad served is not necessarily an ad viewed. Viewable impressions would address these concerns.

Here’s what you need to know.

  • The “viewable impression” remains undefined. Determining what constitutes this metric is the logical first step in proposing its adoption, but some uncertainty about the length of the “view” still lingers. To date, the IAB has suggested that a display ad must fully load and appear within a viewable portion of the site page for a minimum of one second in order to be counted as a viewable impression. It’s possible this will still change. As ClickZ reported last month, the IAB has said it plans to study how that one-second viewable impression “impacts different kinds of ad formats.”
  • Viewable impressions only apply to display ads. This should go without saying but some formats, like video ads, fall outside the parameters of the IAB’s viewable impression effort and one-second rule. Efforts are underway to qualify them in a more appropriate fashion, but all signs point to video ads ultimately being gathered into the viewable impression fold.
  • Ad view technology will need to be flawless. The caliber of the technology used to measure an ad view will be of critical importance to advertisers and publishers. Already companies like RealVu, Flashtalking, and C3 are offering products designed to measure viewable impressions. Determine which is right for you, and prepare your agency or website to be inundated with pitches in the months to come.
  • Viewable impressions could alter the value of display ads. Currently, advertisers typically pay more for ads that appear above the fold than they do for ads at the bottom of the site page. Viewable impressions will likely buttress this existing model, resulting in higher CPMs for “viewable ads,” but advertisers and publishers will need to ask themselves whether this makes sense for their sites. A banner at the bottom of an automotive research site page might appear to be worthless because it doesn’t fall within the “viewable space,” but the “Next page” button beside it could receive one of the highest click-through rates on the page. Don’t discount placements without considering the unique structure of your site and the way that its users behave.
  • It may not be as bad as we think. While comScore’s report is disquieting, keep in mind that it was based on a sample of 12 major brands advertising on premium websites. Because this isn’t a true representation of the overall marketplace, the situation may not be as dire as we think. In fact, many advertisers don’t have cause to lose sleep over viewable impressions (or the lack of them) because their ads are viewed just fine. Be aware of the circumstances surrounding your brand (e.g., types of formats used, placement on the site page), and take your cues from that.

The notion of changing an industry standard can seem staggering, but you can remain in control of your advertising fate by being alert and aware. Now is the time to read up on viewable impressions. You can bet you’ll be crossing paths with them soon.

Screenshot image on home page via http://www.measurementnow.net/.

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