A new year, a new start for display advertising. Since the rise of RTB — and I have been in it for four years this January — we have been talking about more accountability in display, more like search, less waste and so on. Hence, I thought of a post addressing viewability, but it drifted a bit into a general trends discussion.
Search is still number one in terms of conversions and in terms of intent. People who search for “red shoes” usually are looking for exactly that. However, in display, we make them aware of “red shoes”. We are higher up the sales funnel: prospecting. We show them a product they might have not thought of before, and they see the ad, they see the brand name, and later convert through search. We call that “post-view conversions”.
We are counting post-view conversions in RTB with a 30-day conversion window. Yet, should we not be a little bit smarter and focus only on post-click conversions? Even post-click 30 days doesn’t mean someone was interested when clicking; it just shows that someone clicked to find out more. The real intent, similar to search, would be “post-click, single-session conversion” which hardly ever works in display.
So in that sense, even in performance campaigns, display is in the upper funnel and essentially a branding tool: with the difference that branding display budgets are predominantly on premium sites, taking the environment of the ad into consideration.
With that in mind, we still want to look at viewability, trying to answer the question whether anyone has actually seen the ad that converted the user? Google Adwords now offers "viewed" ads only for sale. And viewability becomes more of a thing to look out for in regards to ad effectiveness. The idea is to rid the industry of never-seen ads below the fold that then contribute to the post-view attribution, thanks to cookie bombing. Last cookie wins.
Only a year ago comScore suggested that 50% of all online ads go unseen. That is insane to think that 50% of your media budget is wasted. Would that mean, in turn, that your ROI needs to be halved? No surprise that the claim of the technologies to improve conversions is paying off. Even if they are half wrong, then this would still improve by 50%, wouldn’t it?
The bottom line is that there is only one way to be sure: buy publisher direct, discuss the placement and check. If you go RTB, you might end up below the fold based on inaccurate self classification or you might be able to improve it by allowing third-party providers to measure it. That increases your CPM ever so slightly, your ROI is increased in line and, if they are half right, half wrong, then it is still a better result. Simple math, isn't it?
In conclusion it comes back to the same old story of media. How can you really make it accountable? Is display worth its money away from premium sites? Is RTB really increasing efficiency by showing the right ad to the right user and at the right time. And is it seen?
To measure all that effectively and accurately will still take some time. I am confident that the lower CPMs you are paying in RTB make up for the short-fall of unseen ads. That, in combination with viewability technology, will allow for greater targeting and more ROI than before.
It doesn’t solve the other issues, whether viewed ads should contribute towards your acquisition or whether they should go into the branding budget, even if not on premium sites, and if the traffic is human and so on ... but that is maybe for another time.
So what should we think about display in 2014 when discussing performance and accountability of display?