in Advertising

Is the drive for viewability changing online advertising?

How many people actually view adverts online?  This question has troubled digital advertisers ever since the dot-com boom. Now, with an ever-increasing volume of data, devices and delivery systems available, the “viewability” issue has become one of the biggest challenges faced by the industry.  Adtech companies like Chartbeat, DoubleVerify and Moat are stepping in to the breach, with some impressive early ideas.

What is Viewability?

It’s all very well serving an ad to a potential consumer and ticking the “impression” box.  But how can advertisers gauge whether or not their ad has actually been seen?  The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Ratings Council have a standard viewability measure: if at least 50% of the pixels of an ad are in view of the consumer for at least one second, that ad is considered to have been viewable.  For in-browser video, the measure is 50% in-view for at least two seconds.  The IAB recently lifted its advice against trading on viewability, signalling that this standardised measure is gaining traction.  Advertisers are beginning to expect guarantees on viewable impressions.

 The Problem

Advertisers have always wanted to get their message to as many likely customers as possible while achieving good ROI.  In the pre-internet, old-media age there was always a lack of certainty (and an element of guesswork) in ascertaining viewing figures.  This was largely accepted; there was no mechanism by which agencies could gauge exactly how many consumers were viewing the adverts they placed.  The advent of digital, however, was supposed to offer new opportunities and finally give advertisers assurances around viewability.

Yet the problem persists.  According to Google, average publisher viewability at the end of 2014 was 50.2%.  56.1% of all impressions were not being viewed at all.

One particular concern for advertisers is that ads are often placed “below-the-fold” on websites (i.e. consumers only see the ad if they scroll through the whole page).  Smaller ads also often achieve less views than larger ones.  Another, more recent, issue is the use of “bots” – programmes that automatically load pages over and over again, artificially inflating view figures.

Daniel Michelson at 02 recently spoke to Marketing Magazine on this topic.  He summed up what many brands are thinking: “for a brand of O2’s size, even a small percentage of ads not being seen is a large amount of [wasted] spend.”

Programmatic, targeted advertising is an increasingly common aspect of digital strategy.  Advertisers can follow consumers’ online habits and push them adverts that they are highly likely to engage with.  The challenge is to vastly improve the ability to confirm whether a consumer has actually seen the advert.  Unilever CMO Keith Weed, at the recent Financial Times Marketing Innovators Summit, said that the goal for the digital ad industry should be 100% viewability.  This may seem unattainable, but with current technological developments, vast improvement is certainly achievable.

New Approaches

The short-term strategy for the savvy media planner is simply to try get the balance right.  According to industry research, the best combination to achieve good viewability is a large vertical unit, above the fold, placed onto a site with engaging content.  This is easier said than done.  Some publishers – under mounting pressure – are taking a fresh approach.

One avenue of redress is to improve inventory quality.  To achieve higher viewability figures, publishers need to make efforts to clean up their offering so that all inventory has a good chance of meeting IAB’s 50%, 1 second qualification.  Once a publisher can guarantee that its inventory is all “viewable”, agencies (responding to client demand) are going to be far more likely to want to utilise (and pay for) their inventory.

Yahoo is an example of a publisher taking the lead in this area, already claiming that 80% of its inventory is viewable and only 2% of traffic is bot-generated. This week it announced that it is going to let advertisers check its calculations; adtech firms such as DoubleVerify, comScore and Moat will be able to analyse whether or not ads are likely to have been seen by a human being, rather than a bot.  This builds on Yahoo’s existing model, whereby it says it charges advertisers only when a placed ad was viewed (but previously offered little transparency).

The Financial Times – working with adtech company Chartbeat – has come up with a new charging model to try and allay viewability concerns.  Online, the FT is rolling out a new cost-per-hour charging plan: rather than charging a flat rate per impression, the FT will only charge if an ad it is seen by a user for more than five seconds of “active use” time.  (Impressively, the user’s mouse activity is monitored to see whether or not they are “active”).  This 5 second, active-engagement threshold is a huge step up on the IAB’s model and will give brands even more confidence that their ads are being seen.

Genesis Media, again working with Moat, is taking this one step further with regard to video ads: they claim that the ad will only play once it is 100% in-view.

Facebook and Google are yet to join the transparency venture; both continue to assert that their self-measurement is more reliable.  Time will tell – ADTEKR suspects that, as the pressure mounts, more and more publishers will be following in Yahoo and the FT’s footsteps.


The spotlight shouldn’t just be on publishers.  Brands also need to help out by thinking carefully about the creative elements of their ads.  If a consumer is immediately uninterested in an advert, they could very quickly scroll past it; this could mean that the ad fails to meet the 1 second threshold and is therefore not deemed “viewed”.

Viewability, as a single metric, can’t be used to guarantee consumer engagement .  However, the recent flurry of activity in this space confirms that viewability is now a key piece of the puzzle.  For consumers, advertisers and publishers alike, this is a welcome development; it is likely to drive both an increase in the quality of digital inventory and a sharper focus on creative work.

As we have seen, Yahoo, the FT, Genesis Media and others are already engaging adtech firms.  Pressure on viewability figures is a great adtech opportunity; companies in this space are perfectly placed to analyse viewability performance and drive further refinement.

Is the drive for viewability changing online advertising? was last modified: June 4th, 2015 by Louis Huglin