Marketers aim to create display ads, craft videos, and produce other digital media so that the best possible target audience will see their messages. In fact, marketers worldwide are investing a gargantuan amount of resources—to the tune of nearly $138 billion this year alone—just to make sure every ad and video served to an audience has the maximum number of viewable impressions. That investment, according to analysts for eMarketer, will rise to more than $656 billion in digital ad spend by 2018.
Mark Yackanich, CEO of online video tech company Genesis Media, says those numbers illustrate just how precious the attention of consumers is to marketers. “We look at attention as being kind of a common currency on the Web,” Yackanich says. “If you’re a marketer, you’re trying to use [that garnered] attention to create an impact on a consumer. So attention is the precious piece of currency.”
However, even with the constant—and massive—funneling of resources into paid digital media, measuring viewability (i.e. how much an ad is seen, who saw it, and how well the ad worked) remains murky at best. In fact, the definition of, a common standard for, and the true effect of viewability on consumers remain unclear. “Defining viewability is the hard part,” says Robin Zieme, VP of video for digital advertising company Adconion Direct, recently acquired by Amobee. “Some [publishers, advertisers, and marketers] are setting their own standards, and others are simply trying to accept one standard.”
As a starting point, Zieme cites the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and its industry standard for viewability; for viewable video impressions, IAB identifies an ad that is at least 50% in view for at least two continuous seconds. For display impressions, it’s a minimum of 50% of pixels in view for a minimum of one second. IAB says viewability—the metric that’s used to determine whether an ad was seen—is designed to let marketers and advertisers pay only for media that users could possibly and truly see.
But does this standard really translate into something meaningful for marketers and their audiences? “I really don’t believe it does, although it’s a step in the right direction,” says Yackanich. “The industry is taking big steps forward [by attempting] to ensure definitions and standards are put in place. But I think it’s a far cry from what that grand marketer wants to actually be spending on or investing in.”
Yackanich explains that one second in views translates to just a 5% view-through rate. He says with IAB’s standard, media is not truly reaching target audiences with any real impact. The entire debate points back to the coveted attention of the consumer. “Attention has two dimensions,” he says. “One dimension is time—the duration of attention. The other one is intensity, a marketer’s message relative to the amount of clutter on the page.” He says marketers want less clutter and longer duration—in other words, engagement: “If you don’t have duration of engagement with a particular piece of media, you’re wasting the attention [that you’ve garnered].”
According to advertising media company Infectious Media, 54% of all digital advertising isn’t even viewed by audiences. Why? “It’s not necessarily the old issue of below or above the fold,” says Amobee’s Zieme in reference to advertisers aiming to place their messages above a newspaper fold. “In this digital age, that doesn’t matter as much because if users are engaged they’ll simply scroll down and then read or activate the media,” Zieme says. Instead, ad loads that are out of view often impede marketers, as do videos that don’t load fast enough, unsupported plug-ins, fraudulent practices such as bots, and in some cases, ad blockers.
With these constant stumbling blocks, marketers might want to adopt best practices such as viewability audits. “Be proactive. Screen your buying, your partners, and where they’re placing your media,” Yackanich says. “There are even technology partners out there that have a better understanding of viewability and are able to measure fraudulence in [Web] traffic.”
Bottom line: Viewable impressions drive action. So how can marketers turn up the viewabilty, or in essence, optimize an ad or video so that it’s actually seen by the target audience? “Exposure and frequency combined will deliver results,” Zieme says. He warns that marketers don’t want to overexpose media—exhausting viewers of their message; and don’t underexpose, which can leave little or no impact. “But exposure is important; just make sure to set caps on the number of times one person sees an ad.” He adds that marketers also need a more stringent standard for viewabilty: “I personally would like a standard that publishers, advertisers, and marketers can agree on. As an industry, we need to come together and simply create a higher standard that benefits everyone.”