Viewability May Save Display From Itself

Display advertising is a mainstay for digital marketers, but the necessity of scale and the glut of available inventory have made it practically impossible for buyers to not only see where their ads run, but determine whether or not consumers saw those ads as well.

While the ecosystem is aware of these flaws, it’s proven truly unwilling to change its ways. It’s almost in need of an intervention. Luckily, a growing focus on viewability may bring about the change this industry needs, with publishers themselves making a concerted effort to improve their ads.

Viewability is an attempt to define where on a page an ad appears, along with the consumer’s likelihood of seeing that ad while on that page. Sellers are now offering impressions on a viewable CPM, or vCPM, basis. While the concept could have a major impact on display sales, it’s still not the industry norm. Direct response advertisers prioritize performance, so viewability isn’t necessarily tantamount to their ad buys, but vCPM resonates with brand marketers, who value viewability more than softer metrics like clicks.

Publishers need to grab hold of the concept that ads need to be more viewable, and make it one of their core competencies when designing their pages. Non-viewable ads are not valuable to marketers, so there’s really little need for publishers to work them into their page design. For vCPM to scale in an effective manner – that is, moving toward a world where selling on true viewability is possible – ads below the fold should be considered worthless, to some degree. It’s a particularly important concept within programmatic buying, where advertisers and agencies are building protocols to avoid impressions that are below the fold. They’re doing this through the growing availability of pre-bid data, meaning that publishers that don’t adapt could be cut out if buyers prioritize viewability.

There are other factors that affect the concept of viewability, including ad density. Below the fold placements are certainly of little value, but the value of prominent placements deteriorates as well when a page is overcrowded with “viewable” inventory. Advertisers need to learn about low-value placements before their ad is served – fortunately, newer tools are solving this problem. Media verification, once bucketed as a reactive post-campaign tactic, is now moving toward an “inventory analysis” model to help judge impressions pre-bid.

Some publishers are already exploring ad formats that create stickier banners, by either fixing a bar to the bottom of the page that keeps a banner in view, or making banners that don’t scroll with the rest of the page content. While not necessarily the most groundbreaking executions, these solve problems for both marketer and publisher.

When these tools become the norm, buyers should completely eliminate below the fold impressions from their bid strategy. That inventory is not efficient, and no seller wants to pass something of little or no value along to others. Advertisers should be able to pay $2 for a 728x90 unit on the top of the page and cut their losses, rather than throw money away on units that are never seen.

Beyond static ad units or other technologies, the key to viewability’s adoption is for publishers to stop throwing ads well below the fold to juice their revenue.

While advertisers can employ new tools, they don’t have to worry about poor quality below-the-fold inventory if publishers eliminate it all together. Yes, it seems strange to suggest that fewer ads will actually improve display, but buyers who prioritize viewability will pay higher CPMs for the remaining units on a page. Efficiency will increase as well, as buyers sort through fewer impressions.

Cramming extra ads onto a page gives unscrupulous publishers a short-term gain, but it’s a losing proposition that has deflated display’s value. The shift toward viewability is the symbolic ferryman, coming to collect from the publishers who have damaged display’s reputation.


5 comments about "Viewability May Save Display From Itself".
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  1. Walter Sabo from SABO media, October 5, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.

    Display ads are awful

  2. Don Robinson from mediaFORGE, October 5, 2012 at 11:44 a.m.

    mediaFORGE has had an answer for this for 3+ years! We measure ad engagement and tie to conversion which solves view-through dilemma.

  3. Adam Grow from mediaFORGE Inc., October 5, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.

    vCPM is a step in the right direction, but it is still too flawed to be the reliable KPI and attribution model that advertisers need. It overlooks banner blindness, and the propensity for consumers to switch tabs without returning to the tab where the content loaded.

    I do like the idea of publishers being accountable for placing ad inventory near traffic-generating content. But limiting ads to above-the-fold inventory might lead to an ad-littered upper-fold, damaging the consumer experience. There’s also risk of monopolizing inventory to advertisers that can afford higher bidding prices caused by a very limited ad inventory.

    A better solution is measuring ad engagement. If you know a consumer engaged with an ad, there’s no question it was visible – no matter where on the page it was served. Even more compelling is comScore data from April 2012 showing that engagement has a higher correlation with conversion than any other display metric. Advertisers get confidence that their ads were seen, and that their campaign is influencing conversions.

  4. Eric Scheck from Cross Channel Digital, October 5, 2012 at 2:21 p.m.

    In-view, on-screen (5+ sec) and interaction are all measurable KPIs for static and rich media campaigns that can be combined with back-end conversion metrics. I would be more concerned about issues like the overlap of buying tactics, rich media ads defaulting to static, and brand safety at the 3rd, 4th and 5th levels of distribution.

  5. Alan James Edwards from RealVu, October 5, 2012 at 3:58 p.m.

    When it comes to viewable impressions the idea that "ads below the fold should be considered worthless.." is one of the most glaring misconceptions! We are finding that on premium publisher sites with good content a significant number of viewers scroll below the initial fold and are exposed to lower areas of the page. Then view time and response rates increase because the viewer is lingering on the content. Ads at the top of the page, if exposed, tend to be scrolled out of view or abandoned quickly (or before the ad even renders) as the viewer gets to what interests them. EVERY VIEWABLE IMPRESSION IS ABOVE THE FOLD; because it is not measured until the viewer scrolls it above their fold. When a publisher says to me "We have all of our ads above the fold! I got this covered!" I say.. Why would you waste such much of your valuable ad space? This is one of the most compelling benefits of the viewable impression; it allows publishers to sell their below the fold ad space at a premium. Right now I am looking at a banner ad at the bottom of this mediapost page. It looks pretty interesting and I am going to click on it right after I submit this comment! More on viewable impressions and the web page fold at:

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