I have a very simple proposal: Let's rate the impression.
Wait, I know what you’re about to say. “But impressions are rated now, thanks to the MRC ratings that were announced earlier this year!” Okay, those were baby steps. But they aren’t really “ratings.” It was a great start and I appreciate it, but we still aren’t assessing our “impressions” nearly enough.
We all know that not every impression is the same — that’s a no-brainer — so let's weight them based on math. Don’t just say an ad was “viewable,” but additionally rate long the ad could be seen, how much of the screen the ad took up, and more.
Easy. Right? Shouldn’t everyone want this?
Nope. Impression farms, the term I use for the people churning out these volumes of near-worthless impressions, would be very much against it, and even quality content publishers would need to be paid a fair rate in order to want these standards. We’ve been surviving as an industry while either turning a blind eye or outright complying in the packaging of meaningless impressions into volumes so huge that when they all add up they look good. This is what I’ve referred to as “the subprime ad crisis,” because a similar mass packaging of something —else — junk mortgages — is exactly what led to the subprime mortgage crisis. This situation is really no different. And that is exactly why we have to move to rate impressions better — or watch true advertising as we know it disappear in a digital world.
I think everybody, inside and outside of the advertising industry, would agree that two seconds of half an ad on a page (who knows if the sound is on, or if a person even looked at it) is near worthless. But since we as an industry intentionally set the lowest common denominator for qualifying as an "impression," we are left with this binary definition. There are some companies, like MOAT, that are working hard and beginning to shed light on what advertisers are really buying and what publishers are really delivering. But without expanding the definition of "impression" to recognize that not all impressions (or potential impressions, really) are equal, it won't fix the bigger problem.
So like I said, a simple proposal: Let's rate every impression on how much of a consumer’s screen it takes up and for how long it does so. It wouldn't have to complicate anything at all. Instead of buying binary impressions — was it viewable or was it not? — an advertiser could buy units of time in view. Now, there is still the problem that 30 one-second ads can't tell a story, whereas one 30-second ad can sell a car, and both would technically have the same “time-in-view” score. But let's start with baby steps.