Low Viewability's True Casualty Is Not Budget, But Halving Reach And Awareness

It's hardly a vote of confidence when the latest viewability research can report an improvement which means that just over half of display ads in the UK are viewable. The latest report from ad verification company Meetrics claims that viewability improved from 49% in Q2 to 52% in Q3. It also claims this still means a billion pounds of ad budget is wasted every year.

For reference, half-page ads are the most viewable format (72%), followed by billboards, or what I would call large banners (67%) with the least viewable identified as leaderboards (just 47%) which I would call smaller banners. It seems the "banner" word has disappeared from display parlance.  The main reason identified for ads proving to be unviewable was slow loading of creative, typically caused by redirects and ad servers clunking away in the background at speeds not fast enough to keep up with Web users who have navigated away.

This whole issue of a billion pounds a year being wasted makes for a great headline -- but I'm not so sure. At least, I'm not so sure if they are trying to say that advertisers get charged for a billion pounds worth of ads which are deemed unviewable. Meetrics' people certainly didn't appear keen to support the figure when I challenged it. My understanding, through talking to people involved, is that the industry has made great strides in ensuring unviewable ads are not charged for. It's not universal, of course, but generally the huge media buyers going through the well-known trading desks can expect to be recompensed. 

Hence, if anything, the real cost here is in missed opportunity. Credits can be applied in retrospect to avoid an advertiser paying for what they didn't receive, but the real cost is the advertiser not getting the space in the first place. Display is an awareness driver, although those in retargeting may disagree, which means the purpose of a piece of display is to make the public aware of a new launch or an offer, or to simply remind them that a brand is still there still offering the kind of products and services they need. With click-through rates of one in a thousand, the channel is clearly not one of direct response. 

So when an advertiser commits budget to a campaign, they want to know that that budget will result in the ads they have bought being placed in front of the public. Having that number as much as halved obviously slashes the reach of a campaign by half. That's pretty dramatic if you're running a display campaign as the starting point to raise awareness for a new launch that you are hoping to get people interested in enough to start filling up that all-important sales funnel. Sure, a trading desk executive can retrospectively look at the figures and apply a credit. That's all well and good, but it won't help make up for a campaign that is falling short of anticipated reach.

Make no mistake. If you're dealing with a reputable trading desk or ad network the cost of viewability is far more likely to be missed reach rather than wasted budget.

1 comment about "Low Viewability's True Casualty Is Not Budget, But Halving Reach And Awareness".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 15, 2015 at 10:17 a.m.

    Sean, if an advertiser runs an extended digital campaign involving many ad exposures---actual exposures, not those directed to bots---and his buyers negotiate properly with the sellers, insisting on 100% viewability,  he will, over time, attain a fair measure of reach, providing that this goal is borne in mind when deciding which combinations of platforms are utilized. The real problem, as it affects reach, is ad blocking. No matter how many 100% "viewable" ads an advertiser serves on a large number of sites, if 20-25% of the users block all third party served ads, this creates a potentially inpenetratable reach "ceiling".

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