Wanna Be Viewable, Or Seen? Digital Marketing's New Conundrum

Viewability just became even more interesting -- and perplexing. Could the standards that are there to protect and serve be doing the exact opposite?

Well, that's the uncomfortable conclusion from the latest research from InSkin Media, which tracks eye movement (via Sticky) to compare how long an ad is on screen (measured by Moat) with how long it is truly viewed or gazed at. The result? The metrics that are there to help brands know their ads have the potential to be viewed could well be, inadvertently, working against the marketer's best interests. 

Let me explain. To be deemed as viewable we all know by now that half an ad's pixels have to be on screen for a second. Most will agree it's a very low threshold, particularly the 50% of pixels part -- how many neon signs could you decipher if only half the letters were working? However, we also all know that being on the screen and able to be viewed is a very different thing from actually being viewed, or gazed at, by a human.

According to InSkin Media's figures, the average ad has to be on screen for 14 seconds before it is gazed at for a full second. To be gazed upon for two seconds, the ad has to be viewable for 30 seconds. So you get the picture. The viewability metric of an ad being on screen for a second, is very far removed from the recipient actually viewing it for a second or longer.

The question obviously arises as to why there is such a disparity between an ad being on screen for so long until it is actually noticed, or gazed at. The simplest answer is, of course, that people don't bring up web pages to look at the ads. However, it goes deeper than that. Common sense would also suggest that a page cluttered with ads will attract less attention for each unit. Indeed, inSkin's figures show that ad gaze time drops by more than a third on cluttered pages.

Now here lies the real rub. An ad stands the best chance of being seen for a full second if it is large. Thus, it's common sense that takeovers and billboards get better attention than smaller MPUs. However, the larger the ad, the less the chance of it hitting the 50%-of-pixels-for-a-second threshold because much of it may lay below the fold.

This is a real problem that I've discussed with IAB UK. Advertisers know they want to the impact of takeover, but it does horrendous things to their viewability figures if the page is two screens or more long and so too is the corresponding takeover. The impact is there but the 50% of pixels metric is reached less often in comparison to a smaller MPU.

So the result is much of advertising is still carried out in smaller boxes, which have the best chance of ticking the viewability metric box but far less chance of actually being gazed upon -- particularly, as often happens, if they end up on a cluttered page.

There you have it then. If you're ticking the viewability box that is there to protect brands and ensure they get their inventory on the page, you are almost certainly acting against the interests of your ads being actually seen and noticed. Do you want to be viewable, or seen? It's one heck of a conundrum, don't you agree?

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