If 49% Viewability Doesn't Prompt Brands To Ask Media Agencies Searching Questions, Nothing Will

It has always been a joke that the problem with advertising is that you waste half your money -- the tragedy is that you don't know which half. Well, digital advertisers now have a pretty good idea thanks to figures released by Meetrics, a viewability measuring company.

Just under half -- or 49% -- of digital display bought in the UK in Q2 this year was viewable. That compared to 56% for the corresponding quarter the year before. As such it falls below the current viewability rates of France, at 62%, and Germany, at 64%. To put it in to monetary terms, a staggering GBP485m worth of ad budget is being spent on display nobody can see. Or at least, it's going on display that doesn't fit the IAB and MRC's guideline of half an ad's pixels being on screen and viewable for a second. It's hardly the most pressing target, is it? Yet still, just over half of all adverts "served" end up not being in a position when they can be viewed.

Now, I know what you're thinking, because I was thinking the same thing too. So I got in contact with Meetrics to confirm that this figure does not include ad fraud of any kind. It simple deals with adverts that appear below the 'fold' of the screen or are misserved in some way so they don't actually appear in a viewable form.

It means the biggest question a brand advertiser can ask its media agency is a very simple one. Do you have the tools in place to measure viewability, and are you measuring it? Am I paying for media that is never viewable, or are you ensuring I don't pay or at least get a refund for unviewable inventory? Ok, that's a couple of questions. But they're interrelated. 

The shocking answer that came back from Meetrics is that not all agencies are doing this all of the time. Now, as a viewability measuring company, they have a dog in this fight and obviously want more agencies to sign up to use their technology. The troubling point remains, however. In today's digital advertising age, it isn't a given that brands only pay for media that has a chance of being seen. Unless they press hard, they can end up spending half their budget on inventory that will never be in a position where it can be viewed. And let's stress this point again, that doesn't even begin to cover ad fraud. We're only talking viewability here. 

The rise of programmatic in the UK obviously provides the opportunity for machines to misfire the odd piece of display or place it where it can't be seen. The IAB reckons that within a year or two, three-quarters or four-fifths of inventory will be bought programmatically. So the situation will only get worse unless brands have a very forthright conversation with their media agency and ensure that if technology can be used to place ads, it should also be used to ensure they are viewable. 

Of course, half the point here is not just wasted budget, but that brands are only getting half the media they were expecting. If it were calculated on a cost-per-click basis it wouldn't be the end of the world because there would be no ad to click on and so no charge would be made. But of course, display is based on a thousand eyeballs and if the ad is placed where those eyeballs are not looking, then the brand loses its share of voice. Display is all about branding and awareness -- and if you think you have, say, reached a million people with a branding message for a massive campaign for a new launch but that figure is actually only half a million, that holds major ramifications for the success of the initiative.

Sure, in an ideal world there might be a credit note coming back your way, but actually, most brands would rather that the technology worked instantly and the bad positions were immediately made up for by inventory that can be seen so a campaign's numbers can be reached within the correct time frame.

So if you're a brand that has not had the viewability discussion with your media agency yet or if you're a media agency that has not proactively started the conversation with clients, alarm bells should be ringing. In fact, when only half of display is viewable, those alarm bells need to be deafening.

2 comments about "If 49% Viewability Doesn't Prompt Brands To Ask Media Agencies Searching Questions, Nothing Will".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 22, 2015 at 2:30 p.m.

    Agreed, but shouldn't someone be talking to the sellers as well as the buyers. Is it completely the buyers' responsibility to assure that thier clients' digital ads are viewable. Aren't the sellers part of the equation-----or do we just blame the agencies, like we always seem to do.

  2. James Coulson from Infectious Media, July 24, 2015 at 4:41 a.m.

    I completely agree with the sentiment (especially ed's point above - supply side could resolve this very quickly but wont unless there is agency / advertiser pressure - same with bot traffic)  but advertisers need to be aware that this is how display has been traded until now, and the pricing model has formed because of it. To inisit on viewable only inventory, advertisers are going to have to pay for it, the price will rise as supply suddenly drops by around half. Pushing for viewable inventory will clean up by quite a significant margin where their ads will run, and will have a beneficial impact on their campaign results (if they are measuring in a more advanced way than last click / impression - suprisingly few are) but if they are going to have this conversation with their agency, they need to be prepared for a few home truths themselves. 

    Also they need to ask, what percentage of their press / broadcast / ooh ads are never seen? Higher than 51% i'd bet. 

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