Over the course of the past year or so, ad viewability has become one of the hottest topics in digital media. Marketers and advertisers are demanding the digital ads they buy be “viewable” by users. Now, when you plainly state what the quest for viewability is, it sounds pretty ridiculous. “Paying only for ads that can actually be seen by viewers” – how would anyone conceive of paying for any other kind of ad?
And the new focus on viewability points out that for 20-plus years, the industry has been selling ads that provide only an outside chance a reader might stumble across them. Can you imagine if other products or services were sold without even a chance to work as planned? Food that can’t be eaten, clothes you can’t wear, a car that doesn’t drive. Emperor’s new clothes, anyone?
How did we get here, a place where demanding that ads be viewable is necessary, and where 54% of all ads aren’t viewable? There is no doubt that we brought it on ourselves. The digital media world was growing so fast, it seemed that there was limitless inventory to place ads. We force-fit the old media, “push” model into a new media advertising eco-system, unconcerned with the fact that it clashed with new consumer behavior. And deflationary pricing and race-to-the-bottom CPM rates forced inventory to grow and quality to decline, leading buyers to be accustomed (or addicted) to CPMs of $1 or less.
Advertisers should demand higher quality digital media. And to me, viewability seems to be a pretty low threshold. Nevertheless, here are the reasons I’m interested in this evolution:
1. A focus on viewability will drive advertisers from their “efficiency at all costs” position. Advertisers and their agencies have been focused on gaining ad impressions as cheaply and efficiently as they can. But, as I’ve said before, too much efficiency can be a bad thing. The reason CPMs are so cheap is because they include huge quantities of impressions of extremely low quality. And those impressions don’t make any impression at all. While it’s natural for advertisers to say they only want to pay for ads that are seen, they should be prepared to pay higher costs for them. Imagine that – paying more for higher quality. There’s a concept that would be reasonable.
2. It will make advertisers consider digital ad models, not just old analog ones. Fewer campaigns will simply take display ads (that likely originated as print concepts) and spread them around as many places as a surrogate for awareness. Instead, more teams will consider how a digital media consumer actually engages with content and wants to be engaged.
In addition, changing how media is measured and bought will drive publishers to consider new ad units, new ways to engage with their readers, and more ways to deliver on the needs and expectations of their consumers. It will lead advertisers and agencies to re-think about how to develop campaigns, leveraging the media in new ways to create new stories. And agencies will consider new KPI’s and success criteria beyond impressions delivery for campaigns that relate to the medium, the consumer behavior and the types of conversions that happen along the purchase path.
3. It will begin to orient the discussion around the consumer, not the ad message. If the key is reaching a real person, then ad messaging should be designed to deliver a better user experience. The digital media ecosystem should be built around user expectation, desire and need. It should be about “pull” and no longer about “push.”
My one worry, however, is if, instead, publishers and agencies solve for maximum viewability by creating more and more intrusive ads, more and more pop-ups, more and more interruptive units. Then, it won’t be a happy new year at all. It will be a train wreck.