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Viewability is overshadowing the real online display story

In the looking glass world of advertising and media, it's not unusual for blindingly obvious questions to go un-answered for years - we've all heard the "which half of my advertising works?" question.

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The possibility that fifty percent or more of display advertising online is never seen (comScore research in 2013 suggested 54%) as ads fall below the fold, or bottom of the screen, draws attention to this issue under the umbrella of viewability.

Online, below the fold does not exist

The viewability argument of "did my ad appear above the fold / below the fold" is fundamentally rooted in archaic off-line media (i.e. newspapers). This line of thinking brings all of the inefficiencies of old media tracking and targeting into the online world, which is becoming an artificial limitation resulting in wasted ad spend.

The IAB’s 3MS initiative, including backing from key vendors like ValueClick Media, is the first positive step towards establishing a universal standard measure for viewability that the whole market supports and sticks to. The IAB’s definition is hugely important because it directly measures whether or not an ad was seen and encourages the display market to break free of old media constraints.

Viewability standards are a step in the right direction

More vendors signing up to viewability standards should be seen as a good thing, but the truth is, in comparison to the giant strides in digital marketing performance made in recent years, viewability is a side show. The ability to crunch massive data pools; contribute bespoke (rather than simply open-source) audience data insights and work with brands to reach individuals using techniques such as multivariate targeting are the capabilities brands will increasingly seek out.

Today’s online world is about personalisation. We are now able to directly measure whether or not an ad appears on a user’s screen, making the ‘below the fold’ category redundant. Similarly, we don’t need to run placements on premium publishers in order to address the right audience because we know when an individual user falls into the right audience, regardless of what content they are on.

Duration of viewability is the next step

The next big step for online advertising will probably be to measure how long users see each display ad. We know that there is a big difference in ad value for a placement that appears on a user’s screen for several minutes compared to a placement that only appears on a user’s screen for several seconds. We aren’t suggesting that anyone will be selling banner ads in quantities based on "minutes viewed" any time soon, but it is a way of measuring the full value of each impression to each user that was simply not available to advertisers 20 years ago.

Google are on-board

The announcement that Google will not charge for ads that fall short of the Internet Advertising Bureau’s definition of a viewable ad (50% of the ad being visible for one second or more) highlights the fact that the display market is far from uniform in terms of capability and delivery.

It’s a point that brand marketers investing more and more heavily in multi-channel digital campaigns are increasingly aware of.

Google’s decision to address the issue is a step in the right direction and means that there is another major slice of inventory that falls into line and provides brands with more reassurance that their campaigns will actually be seen.

One-to-one replacing one-to-many?

After all the primary game now in digital marketing is one-to-one targeting across multiple devices.

Innovation and standardisation is gradually forcing media and advertising to throw off the conjurer’s hat and cape and don the white coat of scientific verification.

Viewability is a small part of the picture, but it shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the real show.

Richard Sharp is managing director at ValueClick Media UK

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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