How To Solve The Viewable Ads Debacle
If an ad shows up on a Web page, and it’s below the fold where no one can see it, did it make an impression?
The buzz this month is viewable ads, and the issue of whether or not your ads are being seen on the Web. It’s a big issue because, as we all know, click-through is a horrid metric and actual click-through rates are abysmal, to say the least. The only metrics that we’ve had left to champion have been exposure and engagement, and you can’t engage with something you never actually see.
The comScore findings that 31% of all online ads are never seen are alarming, but also somewhat comforting. If click-through, engagement and interaction rates are so low, then at least we can discount those poor metrics by 31% and assume that if 100% of the ads were seen, then maybe the numbers would at least be a little bit better!
However, the fact that this high a percentage of ads are wasted is an issue because one of the strongest elements of online advertising has been the opportunity to reduce waste. Online provides targeting, which means you can expose your message to only the most prime audience members -- but now we find that a third of those prime audience members are not seeing the ads. That is wasted value.
Back in the old days there was the concept of OTS, or opportunity to see. This concept was applied to the counting of online ad impressions, and was used by ad servers to come to a standard definition for an impression. That definition is in place, and has been in place for years. But it’s clear the spirit of that definition has not been enforced by the long tail or the short tail of media. comScore also surfaced that the issue of viewable ads doesn’t get fixed by paying a higher CPM. It’s an issue across the Web.
What does this mean for the industry?
Well, one possible fix might mean that you tier the pricing for ads. My suggestion would be that only ads above the fold are able to be priced on a CPM basis, and any ads below the fold of a standard website should be priced on a CPC or CPE (cost per engagement) basis. Additionally, I would recommend that ads on mobile browsers be sniffed and priced in a similar fashion, realizing that the fold is much higher. In the case of mobile, only ads at the top of the page would be CPM based and the rest would be performance priced or some other model.
This is not a difficult issue to fix, in theory, but in practice it’s a doozy. The bad news is the vast majority of “impressions” on the Web are going to become devalued rather quickly, and the overall opportunity for revenue from the long tail of websites is going to drop dramatically. The good news is that the best inventory, the truly premium above-the-fold, quality inventory, is going to be priced higher. It’s a simple supply-and-demand discussion. There is more supply of below-the-fold, lower-quality inventory and a finite supply of premium placements. Think of it as a market correction for the ad industry. These kinds of corrections are good in a maturing industry, and necessary if we are to take our rightful place as the number-one advertising and marketing medium in the eyes of big brands.
Of course, we could just piddle around on this issue for a couple of years, and have “committees” and “initiatives” put in place to deal with it. That would be helpful and productive (not so much).
How do you want to see this issue addressed?