Does UK Lead In Programmatic And Unviewable Connected Ads?

Just a couple of days after headlines congratulated Britain's digital marketers for leading Europe by booking 60% of digital display campaigns programmatically, today we get some news that could only be viewed positively in the crazy world of digital marketing. The latest research from Meetrics claims that a 54% viewability level in the UK is a sign of progress in the first quarter of the year.

Just to add a little bit of common sense clarity, however, the figures from Meetrics for the previous quarter -- the end of 2015 -- truly underscored the problem. The UK had a 50% viewability rate where it really was a case of 50/50 whether or not an ad was seen. The country has just managed to get over that binary yes or no even-split figure, but at 54%, it's hardly a massive success worthy of the proverbial letter home.

In France, two in three ads are viewable, and Germany manages to hit 60%. The UK is catching up but is usually at the back of the line when it comes to markets that advertisers can trust to get their messages seen. A plausible reason for this is the UK's leadership on programmatic. As the IAB UK stated last week, 60% of UK digital display is now bought through automated campaigns rather than direct sales. It stands to reason that while this automation may be great for data-driven efficiency, there is a loss of the human element and of dealing first and foremost with trusted sites and the most reputable networks.

Thus, you have a potentially increased risk of fraud. Now, I've checked with the Meetrics guys and their viewability figures are taken after fraud has been stripped out. That obviously helps advertisers and agencies get a clearer picture, but it also underscores how -- even after fraud has been stripped out -- you've only got a slightly better than 50/50 chance of your ad unit being visible.

One very interesting aspect of the research was that out of 100 average ads, where 54 are viewable, 12 fail to appear because they are below the fold. That sounds very normal, doesn't it? However, a slightly higher proportion of 15% are not viewable because the page isn't viewed for a long enough time. Considering that only half an ad has to be visible for a second, that means 15% of the Web pages Meetrics are looking at don't last on the screen for as long as a second.

That could well be spiders crawling and indexing the Web, but it also sounds like classic fraud to me. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like the type of traffic publishers can never be too sure whether it's legitimate spiders or fraud or simply people clicking the wrong link and navigating away before a page has had a chance to appear. 

Out of interest I have asked what proportion of ads have to be stripped out for fraud before Meetrics could say their starting point was 100% authentic advertising spots. I've yet to hear back, but it serves to emphasise that even if you take fraud out of the equation, British advertisers have only slightly better than a 50/50 chance of their ad being viewable. And that's after fraud is taken out. Somehow there just has to be a link in there between the UK leading the way in programmatic and unviewable ads, doesn't there?

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