Woe The Digital Sale: What Does 'Viewable' Mean, Anyway?

Question from a salesperson: I won’t say that I’ve been guilty of burying impressions at the bottom of our pages, but I certainly haven’t forced everything to the top either. Is the recent news about “viewable impressions” going to help or hurt the business?

Jason says: The recent discussion about viewable impressions caught me a bit off guard, and now lots of famous columnists are talking about it. Having the longevity that I do, I have noticed that this business, like most things, is cyclical. In fact, I'm not sure this topic is even worth debating because we have been discussing ATF and BTF for over a decade now. (For those of you wondering what guns have to do with anything, here ATF means, "above the fold." BTF is, you guessed it, "below the fold.") The fold separates the top and bottom halves of the (newspaper) page and represents advertisements, appearing above or below that fold.

When I worked at a newspaper website, I thought we settled this. When we had our article pages, we placed two of the same ads on that page, one on the very top before the article began, the other at the bottom of the page. By sheer genius, we only charged the advertiser for one of those ads. Psst: It was the top one. We could never guarantee that the bottom ad (below the fold) would be seen, so we didn’t count it as an impression, lest it make no impression. See what I did there?

Well, it seems that in the 15 years since then, those crazy kids over at the banner networks, social sites and rogue publishing companies got together with their RTB (real-time bidding) and exchange friends and decided to have a banner party at the bottom of content pages. Of course, nobody could guarantee they would be seen. Shocker. And who’s doing the complaining now? Why, the people who paid money for those ads, naturally. Agencies are now quite upset that their ads aren’t being perused. This seems silly to me because I have a suspicion that over 80% of the ads being placed in this matter are judged on CTR as a means of success. I don’t feel bad for those people at all. If you are paying for ads on a CPM basis that you are judging on a CTR, then you only have yourself to blame.

If you are selling that impression to an advertiser, my advice is to fly right into the sun, guns blazing. If the advertiser cares about CTR, then sell it on CTR. Readers/users can’t click a banner that they can’t see and advertisers don’t have to pay for what isn’t seen, and subsequently, clicked. Problem solved.

Go ahead, Amy. I'm out of ammo.

Amy says: Dare I say that agencies may have always suspected that their ads are not being looked at?  When we break down consumers’ surfing behavior, I think hitting the back button and clicking to the next page that they want to visit is sometimes quicker than a server load of an ad impression.  What an “impression” is versus what a “viewable impression” is was decided a while ago, I thought as well.  As long as a banner appears on the page, it is viewable, unless the consumer doesn’t look at it. This applies to all media and is sometimes called “opportunity to see.”

When I first heard about viewable impressions, it seemed to me that it was a move by premium publishers to increase their rates by implying that certain impressions are more valuable, i.e. impressions that are actually viewed.  I’m wondering if impressions are not viewable, why are they even on the page?  The viewable impression standard is 60% of the ad for one second.  Is that viewable enough to create impact anyway?  If the logo isn’t in every frame, 60% isn’t going to get you very far.

Gazillions of banner impressions are served every day.  Not all of them will work;  conventional wisdom says that half of them don’t work.  Will viewable impressions increase our confidence that more of our digital advertising works?  Doubtful, as I agree clicks and CTRs are still primary metrics and I still haven’t seen a banner implemented that wasn’t clickable. 

Ad networks and exchanges have come onto the scene and disrupted almost everything we used to do in terms of banner advertising.  I’m not sure if viewable impressions are the answer, but premium publishers still need to continue questioning how they can do business in the digital future. And that future won’t be the same if all we are doing is firing blanks.

2 comments about "Woe The Digital Sale: What Does 'Viewable' Mean, Anyway?".
  1. Walter Sabo from SABO media , June 21, 2012 at 4:13 p.m.
    nobody wants a banner. there are far better ways to engage the audience.
  2. Vox Usi from The Voice of the User , June 25, 2012 at 10:39 p.m.
    If you suffer from banner blindness, "viewable" is completely irrelevant anyway!