50:50 Viewability -- Could Innovation Be Playing A Major Role, As Well As Fraud?

There's good news and bad news today. First the good news -- viewability has, ever so slightly, improved. The bad news? It's still only 49%. So, for every two digital display ads a brand spends its hard-earned budget on, only one will ever be viewable. The 49% viewability rate in the UK, according to the latest figures from Meetrics, falls roughly 10% behind France and Germany and a full 20% behind Austria where more than two in three ads are deemed viewable.

This raises two huge questions -- but first, a reminder of where we are and why bashing the IAB UK or the current metric isn't overly helpful right now. Sure, at just half an ad's pixels for a second, the viewability metric is set very low. Just about everyone I ever speak to in the digital marketing world admits that this is not exactly the toughest hurdle. The IAB UK is the first to say that it is likely just a stepping stone on the way to a more exacting standard. However, the big issue for the industry's trade body is that vendors measure in different ways, and so setting certification criteria is tough. By the end of next year, however, it believes there will be a common certification programme that will allow advertisers and agencies to pick vendors who fit the IAB's criteria. Until then, it doesn't make a lot of sense to increase the standard. Get vendors measuring reliably against today's standard before moving is the mantra.

One key point worth mentioning is that there is nothing stopping advertisers and publishers from reaching their own agreements, as we have seen by the FT and The Telegraph offering campaigns measured against viewability standards going up to a full ten seconds.

OK -- so the major questions on everyone's mind in London right now are: Why are we lagging behind? All these efforts and all we see is just under half of ads are viewable? How come? Poor measurement? Fraud?

I think there are two main factors here. The elephant in the room is obviously fraud. It stands to reason that if you are a fraudster you're going to target the market where most of the money is. That puts London front and centre stage. The other factor is a little more exciting. When I speak to ad industry insiders, they're quick to point out two things about Web pages and the latest advertising they are beginning to attract. First, they have become longer, so people can scroll up and down rather than be expected to navigate several pages -- it's a technique the Web is picking up from mobile.

Secondly, advertisers are quickly moving to page takeovers and sponsoring backgrounds for the entire page. It's less cluttered and so gives maximum impact. By definition, however, taking over such a huge page makes it hard to deliver 50% of pixels -- simply because there's more than half of the ad's pixels below the spread, even if the message is completely clear by what can be seen on the viewable page. It also creates a lot of smaller spots that are below the fold, meaning that not a single pixel will be visible unless the reader scrolls down.

So certainly there is fraud, and the massive UK market is obviously a tempting target -- it's probably worth mentioning that Meetrics figures already include fraud and so measure viewability by a human.

However, there is also the very real issue of pages getting longer, providing more ad space lower down, and in the case of takeovers, even the most impactful messages could be deemed unviewable because of so many pixels waiting below the fold to be discovered.

I'm not trying to sugar coat low viewabilty figures, but I would strongly argue that it's not entirely fraud. Longer or "taller" pages must surely be playing a significant role here too.

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