Lessons On Viewable Ads

Since the topic of viewable ads rose to the forefront in the last few months, a number of publishers have jumped onboard to say they’ll only sell viewable ads.  ESPN was probably the biggest publisher to say it would test the model and see what happens.  I wonder what happened?

The viewable ad issue is not going away, but it has simmered down a bit.  It surprises me that advertisers haven’t taken hold and started to demand it as part of their packages. 

If I were still a buyer, it would be top of mind.  Back in 2000 I tried to spearhead an initiative to price all media on a cost-per-unique rather than -impression model. This worked for about six months, but maintaining that model was too difficult in the face of the marketplace. This was my idea, and I was only one man in a modest-sized agency. But the viewable ad issue is a topic that research created, the industry has latched onto, and media buyers would be smart to leverage for their own benefit.  That means momentum.

From a publisher perspective, viewable ads mean more difficulty in yield management.  Yield management systems will have to take into account the viewability of the ad and price accordingly, meaning a publisher whose ads are not above the fold will take a hit. The challenge lies in ensuring that premium ads are priced high enough to make up the difference.  It also means ensuring your ad-serving solution is literally “up to speed” and you aren’t running into issues with ad delivery.  If an ad isn’t guaranteed to be seen, then you don’t get paid for it!

On the advertiser side of the equation, this could become the tipping point for determining the effectiveness of a campaign.  If we guarantee the ads are viewable, then it rests on the creative to break through clutter and motivate the consumer to take action.   If the creative gets better -- and it has to -- then online advertising could vault itself into the lead position for effectiveness.  The targeting is here, the ability to reduce waste is here, and with the viewability factor, the guaranteed exposure is there.  That just leaves the art of the creative to drive the consumer to act!

If that’s the case, what are we waiting for?   This year’s upfront television season was considered something of a correction to the previous season, with average CPMs rising only in the single digit percentages.  That opens the window a little wider for dollars to continue shifting toward digital, and the perception of online to grow to become that of a stronger branding medium.  For those of us who’ve been deep in the waters of online for a long time, we know that branding can be done online -- but for newer entrants, this is still something to be proved.  Viewability sets the stage for a level playing field and makes this very achievable.

So if I were a publisher, here’s what I would do.  I would approach my top 25% of advertisers and offer them a viewable ads package, guaranteeing the viewability of their ads in return for a minimum spend guarantee.  This allows you to ensure they get the right kinds of inventory in return for some measure of guaranteed revenue.  It softens the potential blow of the inventory correction that can be associated with viewable ads, and it also incentivizes your second tier of advertisers to step up to the plate and guarantee to spend more in return for this commitment. 

Over time your yield management systems will catch up to the viewability issue, but during that time you should hopefully see an increase in performance that would subsequently justify the premium rates you would like to charge for your inventory.  If you integrate data and targeting even more to ensure the accuracy of your audience, your CPMs will likely increase enough to more than pay for the correction on inventory.  This also goes hand in hand with making sure your ads are in the best possible locations within content. 

Even though the issue of viewable ads has fallen off the front page of the trades, it doesn’t mean it’s going away.  It simply means that now is the time to determine the changes you need to make strategically and see how they affect your business.

What are your thoughts on the issue?

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4 comments about "Lessons On Viewable Ads".
  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC , July 18, 2012 at 3:10 p.m.
    Cory, this is a no brainer -- everything gets better when we sell/buy ads that are guaranteed to be seen -- the only losers are the ad networks, exchanges and the like -- hence the stall my friend. Keep fighting the good fight. Ari
  2. Larry Allen from 24/7 Real Media , July 18, 2012 at 5:33 p.m.
    Cory - Couldn't agree more. We are in a position as an industry to really step ahead, we have all the tools necessary to win. Here at Real Media we are integrating viewability metrics directly into the ad server and are also using those measures (viewability, time spent and interactions -- not just clicks) for optimization. Publishers now have a great opportunity to win back clients and be smart about how they communicate value to them. Larry
  3. Todd Chu from BrightTag , July 18, 2012 at 7:22 p.m.
    Hi Cory, great post and thoughts. To me, the viewable impression debate has roots in a standard that should be revisited. That is, the very definition of a valid impression is a response from an ad server to an ad request from the user's browser. What is important to me about that definition is that it doesn't speak to when in the user experience that response is generated. Because of the way most publisher pages load ad tags, the initialization of the ad can occur below-the-fold, in a non active browser window, or otherwise not viewable. That means the ad is counted but not actually viewed and we are all left with this measurement problem. Today, with modern browsers and code techniques, it is actually quite easy for publishers to manipulate the delivery of ad tags using design patterns like lazy loading which would force the ad to only render and count when viewed. I am speaking from a technical and ad ops POV. If I were a publisher, I would always consider different implementation options like this as a way to have both a technical and a business response to the problem. While such methods of implementation may be disruptive to the current way that media and data is exchanged, I think it's worthwhile for us as an industry to evaluate these kinds of measurement standards. Todd
  4. Domenico Tassone from Viewthrough Measurement Consortium , July 19, 2012 at 9:33 a.m.
    Good post and commentary. I agree that some of the buzz has died down. I'm not sure if that means advertisers and pubs are getting to work or they are finding this difficult to execute (moving slow). Let's not forget, this is hyper cross-functional to act on - not just internally but across service-providers and stack technology partners. Also recently coming from the corporate client-side (retailer), it's also about budgets and credibility. We'd be making a mistake confusing the desire for change with the intestinal fortitude/political capital needed to upset the apple cart (longstanding media vendor relationships). That said, I'm recommending to TEG's advertiser clients to push for it and building the capabilities to measure and optimize. We will get there. Dominic