Not Every Impression Created Equal: An Ad Served Not Necessarily Ad Viewed
While digital advertising continues to accelerate and evolve, there’s no doubt that TV retains its ability to reach large numbers of people over short periods of time. But the explosive growth of online advertising is offering marketers and media buyers other opportunities to reach, engage and influence specific audiences, with a calculated frequency and via more touch points.
Irrespective of media, there is always a need for (new) measured metrics and standards that can help inform future campaigns and help better allocate marketing spending to most effectively reach and engage audiences.
Traditional TV has its problems, but buying a spot on a program (like “Family Guy” or “The Walking Dead”) pretty much guarantees eyeballs. It's not the same in digital. One of the great challenges in digital advertising is getting assurance that the intended target audience actually had the (chance or) opportunity to see (OTS) the ads for which the advertisers are paying. This addresses the questions at the heart of media planning: “How many people are actually seeing an ad?”
For nearly two decades, online advertising has been operating on a served-impressions standard as recorded by ad servers, regardless of whether anyone actually even had the opportunity to see them. Many would agree this inherently wastes both money and opportunities throughout the course of a campaign. The massive scale of today’s online advertising investment demands more discipline around how the online ad industry measures an ad’s reach or exposure.
Advertisers and media buyers are seeking greater accountability and transparency into an online campaign’s target audience, ad delivery and validation. This necessitates broadening the array of measured metrics to address the quality -- not just quantity -- of consumer reach.
One of the more interesting issues born from the online industry’s recent affinity with ad verification is the concept of ad “viewability.” Advertisers want to have the ability to calculate real reach and exposure numbers based on actual viewing, not just on delivery or the number of ad impressions that were "on target" in terms of reaching the desired audience. The move to viewable ad impressions is an effort to make digital more consistent and comparable with other media, particularly TV.
Ultimately, brand marketers want to ensure that their campaigns have the opportunity to actually make an impact in the form of raising awareness, influencing attitudes or perceptions, affecting consumer’s purchase behaviors, etc. Then marketers also want to measure which buys are providing the most value, using those measurements to improve and better forecast future media buying. This means that the ad must be viewable by the target consumer. Not making this distinction gives only a partial, and in some ways flawed or inaccurate, picture of an advertiser’s reach. Counting unviewable ads as impressions fundamentally distorts advertising effectiveness and ROI analysis (reliable KPI and attribution models) by taking credit for consumer actions despite never providing opportunities for ads to be viewed --misleading to marketers.
Given that the online industry is now moving from impression-based reporting to viewable impressions, publishers will need to leverage tools and services and take tactical steps to decrease potential revenue exposure in order to grow margins. One likely course of action that could imply publisher acceptance of change could be site redesigns with the context of new devices and emerging platforms in mind. It’s in a publisher’s best interest to ensure that its ad space maximizes the chance a brand's ad will be seen. Still, it should be made clear that there are other factors that affect the concept of viewability, including ad density (i.e., the page being overcrowded with “viewable” inventory).
This creates opportunities for sites to proactively create a better experience for their advertisers by focusing on getting more content and inventory in visible space. This should drive better effectiveness and performance through ad placement as a result of viewable ads. The net effect will be better results, but with fewer impressions, which maximizes the value of digital investments and provides brand advertisers with better confidence and security to place more ad dollars within digital media.
The key question on whether or not advertisers will pay more for a viewed impression than a served impression, or only pay for a viewed impression, will be interesting to monitor.