As the CEO of an advertising technology company in New York City, I work and speak with an interesting mix of publishers, brands and agencies on a daily basis. I make a point of soliciting candid
feedback on the topic of viewability. After all, it’s the hot industry topic right now and I imagine that everyone has a view – it should be an easy discussion, right? Not so much. Every
time the word “viewability” is mentioned, cue the uncomfortable silence and shifting all around the table.
Let’s take a look at lessons learned from those often-awkward
conversations and explore how we – advertisers, publishers and tech providers – can work together on the industry’s biggest challenge:
- Both sides are disconnected,
but sharing similar pains. On the agency side, I often hear comments about how viewability isn’t understood – that performance is baked into campaign ROI and that the standards, which
are shifting, are difficult, if not impossible to effectively deal with at scale. For publishers, there's an equal amount of uncertainty and shifting. They ask: How do we create viewable
impressions? Brands asked for inventory, we created it. How do we now deliver on commitments saddled with viewability goals? Can we profit from viewability?
viewability standards are a good starting point, there’s still a ways to go. This may be one of the most interesting takeaways. The current viewability standards from the MRC and others are
a starting point and seem to imply that this is an issue that will take time to ingest and process (which I agree with). When some agencies announced they were demanding 100% viewability for their
clients, the industry let out a collective gasp. Are they nuts? Is that possible? What’s required to make that happen? What’s the pricing?
Based on the strength of response, the MRC may have gotten things right by getting us back on the rails as an industry. These standards are not ideal as they still allow for significant media
waste, but they allow publishers, agencies and brands alike to process the issue and adjust investments.
- Pricing is a big part of the issue. At its heart, the viewability problem
online stems from the structure of ad products. Standard ad forms are not designed to capture attention. They work much like TV and print do. If someone is sitting in front of the screen
or page, they receive the message. Right? Wrong. Waste like that belongs in an ecosystem where there is limited data, not on the Web. Banner ads and pre-rolls were not
constructed with viewability in mind and not priced according to their impact. They should be.
There's a huge misalignment of incentive and a bit of willful naiveté when it
comes to the value of money and the attention it buys. Advertisers get what they pay for and viewability costs money. CPMs of $3 for video can get you $3 worth of viewable impressions. As the rule of
thumb goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is – premium is premium for a reason.
- Publishers already have basic tools to help with viewability within grasp.
High-quality, attention- grabbing ad products (that are not shaky banners), do exist. For instance, interstitial and higher impact video ad units are, by definition, highly viewable. Some in
the industry worry that these ads will compromise the user experience and consider them “nonstandard” – but in 2015, they’ll actually drive a huge body of viewable impressions.
My suggestion for publishers? Aggressively pursue high impact ad units, but apply them intelligently and judiciously. Most of you know that the consumer doesn't like receiving advertisements in
general, but they will tolerate and embrace brand messages that are well-applied and relevant, in formats of all types.
Every side in the industry is in a position to come together to
solve viewability – after all, we’re already halfway there. The most important thing to note is that viewability must receive its fair value. Actual viewable impressions deliver brand
impact and drive a higher ROI, and it’s important that publishers are allowed to recognize the value they are creating for brands. Real attention costs more.
The proper alignment of
the viewability ecosystem will come from a better valuation of real attention that is driven by a better viewable ad experience. If advertisers support higher impact formats as the tip of the spear
and pay for quality, publishers will build them, and consumer habits will ultimately change. We might not just solve the viewability problem, but help reset the value of Web publishing itself.