The Inevitability Of Viewability Should Be Driven By The Agency Buyer

The IAB and the MRC are both leading the charge for viewability in display advertising, but the only way this initiative will take hold and work is if media-buying agencies get on board.

As I’ve written in the past, the opposite of viewability, which is the current state of affairs in display, undermines the very fabric of the online display ecosystem.  Advertisers are paying for billions of impressions that nobody will ever see, and these drive down performance as well as price (if there’s no perceived value, then why pay a premium?).  Brand marketers should be furious, but instead they’re encouraged to turn a blind eye to what amounts to millions of wasted dollars.  With viewability measures in place, efficiency may fluctuate, while performance increases and inventory decreases can lead to an eventual rise in price to match.   Publishers who embrace viewability will actually benefit from the initiative, once the initial shock wears off. 



The challenge of viewability is that the programmatic ecosystem does not support it, and therefore neither do the media-buying agencies.   As programmatic continues to grow, viewability measures become more difficult to fully integrate.  This is an increasingly difficult challenge, as the majority of the ecosystem is either currently built on, or headed towards, the exchange model.   There are billions of impressions being bought, sold and traded blindly.  Ads are priced and marked and someone on the other end bids and buys them without necessarily confirming the value of viewable ads.  Viewability is not a requirement or check box of any kind, so it’s almost impossible to enforce. 

That leaves viewability in the eye of the buyer, and that’s where the agencies come in.  The agency can only hold so many publishers to task to ensure viewability because of time and budget constraints.  If publishers say the inventory is viewable, agency buyers mostly have to take their word for it.  Of course there are technology overlays, which can be placed on top of the exchanges to ensure viewability and reduce fraud, but these cost money.  Who is going to pay for that?

The typical agency media buyer is concerned with efficiency first because that is a direct area of control for her and one she tends to be measured by.  Performance is secondary because, lets face it, the buyer can always blame the creative for not working.  Buyers are not inclined to add costs for fraud monitoring, viewability monitoring and other areas on top of their buys because it effectively removes a portion of their working media from the mix.

I have bought media directly for almost 20 years in this industry and my first order of business was always to get more for less cost, pure and simple.  Even ad serving costs, low as they are, were a pain.  Rich-media serving costs and now data costs all add up, which leaves not a whole lot of wiggle room for the items the industry has not quite deemed “necessary,” like viewability. 

Many people feel the decision rests on the marketers to dictate the use of these tools to maintain value in association with their brand.  There is a strong associative value to seeing your ad in a proper context, and there’s clearly a negative value to being associated with a poor placement.  The argument against this theory is that  brands pay their agencies to be the steward for their brand in the media environment, and as such the agency should be thinking with their best interests at heart.  Some would argue the same goes for publishers, who want to demonstrate value on their end by ensuring viewability and the perception of premium inventory for what they bring to the market. 

At the end of the day, I still think the responsibility rests with agency buyers.  They need to ensure that ads are viewable and they need to be willing to enforce this.  They need to be willing to sacrifice some of their media efficiency in favor of stewardship for the brand, ensuring performance will be strong rather than focusing on the efficiency of the buy. 

After all, TV buyers only have so much room to negotiate because there is finite inventory, yet they maintain clear value at a premium level in their media.  In online, the inventory is almost infinite, so what keeps publishers from knocking down prices year after year?

So if you’re an agency, or you work with one for your media buying, I strongly encourage you to push on the viewability standards being adopted by the MRC and the IAB.  I would say it’s inevitable and you want to be on the forefront of things, but inevitability is not much of a persuasion tactic.  Look at it as doing the right thing now by choice, rather than being forced to do it later.

5 comments about "The Inevitability Of Viewability Should Be Driven By The Agency Buyer".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 16, 2014 at 12:32 p.m.

    Planners and buyers should be the same person. The difference between the so called specialists and the generalists who plan and buy all media for one client is that the generalist takes in the entire picture of all media and how they work (or don't) work in combination while taking creative into consideration plus previous media buys and results.

  2. Christopher Sanders from The Ingredients Group, April 16, 2014 at 3:41 p.m.

    I could not agree more Cory. This is a problem that needs fixing. To extend the TV comparison: TV is not only more scarce inventory, but generally a better ad experience/execution: full screen, the only thing on the screen for the :15-:60 duration....and the content too. Pre-roll can barely hold a candle to it and the rest of online displays pales. On a peek day, Youtube might have 1-2M "viewers" in any given hour. By comparison, Judge Judy syndication garners a 7.1 rating point or about 8M viewers for its 30 min slot in the afternoons. There is no chance dollars are going to keep flowing to online with this kind of disparity in reach and quality.

  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, April 16, 2014 at 5:23 p.m.

    If we aimed any lower we'd shoot ourselves in the foot...Oops, I think we just did! And Christopher, you bring up a good point: it's all about scalable reach. But as we can see from this article, the digerati are too busy chasing their ever-longer tails into ever smaller circles to even stop and consider why the TV guys are laughing all the way to the bank with 3 ratings in prime time.

  4. Al DiGuido from Optimus Publishing, April 16, 2014 at 8:45 p.m.

    It's the marketer's money...and their objectives ( new customer acquisition, retention, upsell, winback) that should be the driving factor here. Marketers who are made (by their CEO's and CFO's) to be accountable for measureable results; ROI...should put all sorts of pressure on their agencies and vendors to demonstrate that display media buys and all other media buys are "moving the needle". Haven't met an agency person in my career that is willing to put their OWN money at risk to prove that their media plans actually drive the success metrics that a marketer needs. Stop blaming agencies...It's the marketer's money...they need to do the talking.

  5. Patrick Toner from Oliv., April 17, 2014 at 1:25 p.m.

    A great opinion piece - and some righteous indignation about how stakeholder complicity has been strangling the golden goose of online advertising for years.

    When you apply GRP style buying to online Ads, and then make assumptions about all of your metrics, you are wasting money. Of a $42 billion spend on OLV last year, figures indicate that nearly half was spent on non visible media.

    With Client side marketing teams bonused on perceived savings (driving down CPMs based on ludicrous volumes), making wild claims about Frequency, Reach and View Through/Completion, backed up by complicit Media Agencies and Publishers, all paid on CPM deals, it comes down to a push for scale over quality.

    The Audit firms tasked with preventing fraud, are also, more often than not, paid on a CPM deal, indicating that they to, have a vested interest in campaign size, rather than placement quality. Even when they try to reveal the inequities, inefficiencies or outright fraud on a buy, the client will look at perceived savings based on reduced CPM, and fail to work out what their effective CPM ACTUALLY is.

    It's farcical, and until the various stakeholders admit that much is rotten, there won't be a change. Viewability standards are now being applied to display, but I fear it's too little too late for a declining sector of online advertising. If content was created, that was designed around engagement, whether meaningful OR trivial, but ALWAYS accurately measurable, then the industry could move to a CPE model, that is in everybody's interests.

    If you're paid on engagement, you're going to make sure the Ad is seen. If your building for engagement, then you're going to ensure your creative is optimized for its online presence.
    If your only paying for engagement, then you can more effectively measure ROI, as there's less media wastage.

    TV will continue to have it's advocates, but high quality preroll placements, of which more are appearing all the time, is a qualitative match for TV, and offers more besides in terms of reporting and transparency.

    If all we're doing is taking a linear TV Ad, and dropping it into a PreRoll placement though... well, then we're missing the point, and allowing the status quo to continue.

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