Not Every Impression Created Equal: An Ad Served Not Necessarily Ad Viewed

  • by December 6, 2012

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.

5 comments about "Not Every Impression Created Equal: An Ad Served Not Necessarily Ad Viewed".
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  1. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, December 6, 2012 at 2:01 p.m.

    Overall - this is a well written article about the challenges of online advertising and a constant diminishing CTR due to banner blindness or below the fold placements, or any number of events. A couple notes though to keep things in perspective... The cost of banner impressions versus the cost of GRP's really isn't in the same ballpark - so comparing it to TV isn't exactly the same. And to that note - you made the comment "Traditional TV has its problems, but buying a spot on a program (like “Family Guy” or “The Walking Dead”) pretty much guarantees eyeballs."

    I couldn't disagree more with that statement... Discarding DVR estimates - I've also felt that the most inexact science was measuring how many people saw your ad in traditional formats. In print, what's the guarantee everyone reads to be 17B... In TV what's the guarantee a bathroom break doesn't happen during every commercial (other than Super Bowl Sunday). In radio, what's the guarantee someone like me doesn't flip the station every time ESPN radio says "we'll be back in 3 minutes to discuss...".

    So although there are issues with digital - I think what people should take out of this article is more that there are evolving formats that are being created to ensure that digital is NOT like traditional, rather than saying traditional is the unit by which viewership is measured.

    Otherwise - very good article on all of the changes taking place.

  2. Jeff Bander from Sticky, December 6, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.

    The theory of the article is very good. Impressions in screen or as the industry interestingly enough calls them "viewable", has a better opportunity to be seen than impressions below the fold.

    What if you would KNOW if the impressions are actually SEEN, not just inscreen? Sounds like a major technology breakthrough.

    Now you can know if your ad was seen or not.
    The is the answer.

    P&G is using the world's first and only online eyetracking technology through EyeTrackShop Inc. to learn which of their impressions are seen and which are not.

    ETS just won the top prize at TMRE in Boca in November for the best Next Generation Market Research Disruptive Innovator. Eyetracking through consumers regular webcams on their computers allows companies to get fast actionable insights anywhere in the world at the same time. Never travel and save dramatically over traditional eyetracking methods in CLT.

    Why settle for viewable, when you can get SEEN.

  3. George Musi from DG, December 7, 2012 at 9:18 a.m.

    Thank you for the comments Michael and Jeff. What I was referring to is video ads specifically (ex.:30 spot vs.:30 pre-roll). The point that I’m trying to make is that there is a growing need in the media industry to better align video campaign measurement with TV, understanding TV and online video lines are blurring at increasing rates.

    Traditional TV CPMs have always been based on viewing opportunity, and agree that TV commercials play whether you're in front of the set or in the bathroom or TiVoing through at a rapid rate (and also adding that viewers have ad-avoidance technology in hand) – advertisers don’t know if their ads are seen (real ad viewability), let alone seen to completion. But, if the audience is in front of the TV than they have the opportunity to see the ad (it takes over the entire screen). This OTS (fully viewable) is not guaranteed in online video, even is the person is in front of their device, because it can be partially obstructed or non-visible.

    The viewability measurement (instead of just measuring deliver) provides new level of validation that improves the ability to quantify the impact of video ads. These new insights should bring enhanced transparency and accountability for advertisers and agencies, while also allowing for the integration of online video with TV in cross-media campaigns. However, what we are seeing in the industry is a need for a standardized, multi-platform video measurement definition that would allow buyers to compare traditional and nontraditional TV buying options.

  4. Jeff Bander from Sticky, December 7, 2012 at 1:23 p.m.

    All great points. I love your term (real ad viewability) FYI, we test TV ads online ad tell our clients second by second what is seen and not seen. We break it down by segment and tell them what percentage of viewers are actually looking at their product through the spot. We also tell them when the consumer has changed the channel and stopped watching the commercial.

    With pre-roll, we show our clients second by second exactly where the consumer is looking and what percentage is looking at the video and where and what percentage is looking at other items on the page.

    This is much more than what is being called "viewability" This is seen.

  5. Nick D from ___, December 10, 2012 at 10:05 a.m.

    Bit late to the party, but reiterating:

    "but buying a spot on a program (like “Family Guy” or “The Walking Dead”) pretty much guarantees eyeballs": nope, it's a fallacy, and it's part of the problem online faces, in holding itself to imaginary standards that other media have.

    "Given that the online industry is now moving from impression-based reporting to viewable impressions": nope, not yet it isn't. If you've been keeping up with the industry chatter, there are currently serious hurdles to overcome before it starts 'moving to viewable impressions'. In fact, specific press releases have urged people not to consider moving to transactions based on viewable impressions yet.

    The irony is that MediaMind has done sterling work in showing the importance of engagement - and how time spent engaging with an ad results in better brand follow-up and conversion. Much better, surely, to focus on that, and shift away from the minefield that is, currently, viewability?

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