Most Viewable Things About Online Viewability Are The Scams

Funny how things work out. Today—July 1-- is the day the Media Rating Council is officially adopting its metrics for viewability, the no-doubt earnest attempt to provide assurances that advertisers are paying for video ads that are actually seen by somebody. Not too much to ask.

And, at the same time, three influential advertising news sources—Advertising Age, Adweek and MediaPost—are all trumpeting stories casting a hairy eyeball at viewability issues, and in the case of AdAge and MediaPost, reporting two new scams in which advertisers and programmatic buyers are being hoodwinked.

Scammers we will always have with us, and the Internet seems a particularly fertile place to grow them.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, and honest members of the industry generally have been on the case for years. At the end of March, the IAB reported the Media Rating Council’s all-clear for display ads viewability standards, with video soon to come.

Back then, the IAB’s Sherrill Mane wrote, “After 18 months of intense debate and hard work by hundreds of people throughout the ecosystem, we have a standard for viewable display impressions: a minimum of 50% of pixels in view for a minimum of 1 second.”

But she warned: “The industry needs to wait a bit longer for viewable when it comes to video. For viewable in-browser video impressions, the MRC is advising a gating period through June 30, 2014 before trading. In-browser video viewability is defined as: a minimum of 50 percent in view for a minimum of two seconds…

“What does this mean? Practically speaking, it means that—as of today—for brand advertising, agencies can and will expect guarantees on viewable display impressions, with video to come soon after. This means that one of the major obstacles to being included in brand allocations has finally been removed.”

And yet, that’s probably not true. Estimates are that somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% to more than 50% of online video ads are not seen. The ruses are incredibly clever, diabolical even.    

DoubleVerify uncoverered a “highly sophisticated” video ad laundering scheme that may have affected 1% of all digital video ads and cost advertisers $5 million a month, MediaPost’s Tyler Loechner reported.  The scammers used URL masking to disguise the actual worthless sites the ads were being seen. The fronts looked legit, covering relevant topics like travel, cars and health.

The story isn’t totally in the past tense. DoubleVerify’s still trying to weed out the bogus sites, and it hasn’t found out who’s been doing it.

AdAge.com a day ago reported on a viewability fraud operation in which Web sites run miniscule ads inside “nearly invisible windows” and putting those windows on legitimate sites, making money off legitimate traffic. The diabolical twist here is that these con artists figured out a way to fool anti-fraud monitors, says Telemetry, which uncovered the fraud.

Again, there is not an end written to that fraud, but Telemetry says its cost advertisers $10 million in the last month, and AdAge says we’re talking major advertisers—Ford, McDonald’s and Coke among them.  The trade magazine says Adap.tv and Tremor Video were among the ad agencies fooled into thinking its ads were doing what they were supposed to be doing.

One of the facts about Internet scamming is that it’s a lot more intricate than the ordinary kind of cheating that’s been used to distort advertising metrics by broadcast and cable television, radio stations and way back, newspapers.

When I write about viewability problems, I invariably hear from readers who want to point out ad scams through history on other media. Fact is, stuff happens, and there are dishonest agents, from the butcher with his finger on the scale to the bartender watering down the drinks and the slick Internet thug racking up illusionary ad views.

But the online business is in deep trouble because of the flim-flams, so even corrections and standards seem a little weak.

No print advertiser ever required proof that readers actually read the ads, millions of TV viewers are fixing sandwiches in another room when the commercials are airing.

But the new standards now say a two-second glimpse at an ad constitutes a job well done. Unfortunately/fortunately, the online industry can determine even those little visits.    

“It’s way too short,” said Kevin Scholl, digital marketing manager at Red Roof Inn, complained to Adweek. “We want to set the metric, but does the starting point have to be so low?”

The gist of that article suggests, well, things will improve eventually. But it’s that reality and the regularly-occurring viewability horror stories that should keep advertisers away from online video. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and there’s apparently even more room for scam artists.  

pj@mediapost.com

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4 comments about "Most Viewable Things About Online Viewability Are The Scams".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 1, 2014 at 3:29 p.m.
    The scammers are laughing all the way to the bank as more and more money keeps pouring into online advertising. The consumer with built in marketing/advertising costs to the products/services they buy will pay more and all will be well in the land of agencies and media.
  2. John Grono from GAP Research , July 1, 2014 at 6:57 p.m.
    Don't forget that 2 seconds is the MINIMUM. This doesn't mean that the viewer sees 2 seconds only. When I worked on Out-of-Home visibility in Australia, we used the international standard of 200ms for a billboard. Yes, that's right - one-fifth of a second. [And for those who know the sport of cricket a caught-and bowled comes back at the bowler in around one-third of a second in which time the bowler has to see that the ball has been hit, see its trajectory, then move body and hands into position to catch a ball that is travelling towards you at over 100 km/h ... and then catch it, a task somewhat more difficult than watching an ad]. With our hundreds of hours of eye-gaze study, it was evident that 200ms filtered out passers-by who would have had no cognition of the sign. The average viewing time (from a moving car) was, from memory, something just under 2 seconds, and with something like with a third in the 0.2-1 second range, a third in the 1-2 second range, and a third in the 2+ second range. The KEY thing is not the threshold, but the distribution of the duration ABOVE that threshold.
  3. pj bednarski from pj , July 1, 2014 at 10:02 p.m.
    That is one of the best analogies, or maybe just most interesting piece of information I've seen, in a long time. I love to see awful billboard messages that carry so many words. Don't billboard companies give advice?
  4. John Grono from GAP Research , July 1, 2014 at 10:21 p.m.
    Our mantra here is ... if you have to use words (a picture is worth a thousand words) then 7 is the maximum. Of course when we have film posters and we HAVE to have all the legal mumbo-jumbo at the bottom ... well ... 4 point should do it!