Click-Throughs Are Dead - So Viewability Has To Get Better Than 50:50

When Google says that fewer than half the display ads bought online are viewable, you know there's a problem. With its huge analytical power, when Google tells you less than half of all display is viewable, then you know that compared to all the estimates that are passed around, this is a figure to stand up and take note of.

There's always been that old familiar joke in advertising that you waste half your budget -- but that may be the case if, as Google confirms, half of all display ads never even stand a chance of being seen.

I'm always amazed at how easily this topic is overlooked or written off as a glitch of the digital age. My favourite line, which drives me insane, is that nobody ever knew that a television ad or a press full-pager was ever seen, so it's just the same. This typifies a rather arrogant attitude to digital. People who think in traditional terms need to give up the steam tractor days and ignore the inkling that they're being ripped off. Of course you never knew if a press ad was seen or not -- however, you always knew it was there to be seen. You could always check that by buying the paper.

So it's no wonder that many brands are very concerned that they're not getting what they've paid for. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. They've got to be very concerned that the brand is appearing where they want it to be seen, plus they've actually got to run the risk that the ads might never see the light of day in the first place.

When you then throw in that the way machines are now buying inventory from machines--  programmed by smart planners and buyers, of course -- brands never quite know whom they're paying what. There are potentially several layers of tech providers between them and the final bill which is rarely itemised. They know that inventory has gone down in price, as volume increases and buying becomes more efficient, but they're never quite sure if any of that's being passed on.

It has gotten so bad that a representative from the "voice of the UK advertising industry," ISBA, recently told me, in a conversation I've blogged about before, that one auditor's estimate is that of the bill a brand receives from an agency, as little as half can actually be for media. In other words, then, if that is true, if you put in GBP100 you can expect GBP50 worth of inventory -- of which, according to Google, just GBP25 worth will be viewable.

It's not just about money, of course. Display has pretty much become the preserve of brand marketing. Yes, there is a lot of retargeting and direct response around, but on the whole, so few people click on an ad that even if it contains a strong call to action, the most a spot can usually do is inform and raise awareness. Click-throughs have also become synonymous with click fraud, and so have largely been disregarded by major brands. However, if click-throughs were the metric deployed, you'd immediately notice that there were fewer.

Instead branding metrics is generally how display is now being measured, rather than direct response. It's a little like a return to the old days of focus panels and surveys through which you ask people which messages they can recall, rather than looking for a number on a spreadsheet that is generated in real-time but that nobody trusts,.

So a brand can happily spend its budget thinking that, if nothing else, the public is viewing the spots and brand awareness and consideration is hopefully on the rise. It's only when they later come to do the focus group or ask people who should have seen the ad to fill in a a survey that they realise they have not had the reach they thought they were paying for a month or two ago.

That's what makes viewability so important. Display is there to be viewed far more than it is to be clicked on. It's an issue that truly needs the industry's attention because brands are now relying on the rear view mirror of surveys rather than real time click-through rates, and I suspect many will not be liking what they see.

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