Irony of Ad Viewability Metrics: Views Don't Always Equate With Engagement

The digital ad space will continue to grow and prosper in 2017, but so will certain risks. There will be more opportunities for ad placements within mobile apps and mobile messaging programs. There will also be the risk that only a low percentage of the ads will be viewable.

As a result currency has switched from a served impression to a viewable impression. So what exactly is viewability and are measurements useful? It depends on who you ask.

Lack of Consistency in Standards

The industry standard as defined by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is that 50% of an ad's pixels should be visible in the browser window for 1 second. For larger-sized ads only 30% of the ad's pixels need to be visible, and for video ads, 50% of the pixels must be visible for a continuous 2 seconds.

However, Facebook has a different opinion. Their definition of viewability is a bit more lenient, requiring an impression to appear for more than zero seconds, and to have a human on the other side.



GroupM controlling roughly one-third of global ad spend, has a more rigid standard. For display ads, the agency demands 100% in-view impressions, and with video, 100% of the video player must be in-view, with half of the ad viewed with sound without using autoplay.

Multiple standards are creating new challenges. Publishers need to devote time and resources to redesigning sites and ad units that account for different standards. Sellers are losing money since there are impressions that meet Media Rating Council (MRC)’s standards that GroupM won’t pay for.

Changing Formats anger Consumers

Publishers are scrambling to redesign their ad space to maximize viewability.

Techniques include placing more ads on the page, adding higher paying units (like video), making ads larger, or placing them in front of the page’s contents and forcing interaction. Another technique that can be used is the practice of refreshing, or reloading, the ads that are already displayed on the page.

The reasoning behind implementing ad refresh is fairly simple: if the first page load resulted in three ad impressions, and the user remains on the page for a long enough period of time, refreshing the ads can increase the number of ads shown to the user from three to six and is likely to produce higher revenue-per-session for the publisher.

However, all these extra efforts to increase viewability can create a backlash. Viewers become so annoyed at the rapidly changing flashing images, they decide to block ads altogether. In addition, it’s not clear that meeting viewability standards increases user engagement.

Does Viewable equal Engaged?

It’s not proven that an ad deemed “viewable” will catch someone’s attention. Viewability means that the ad has an opportunity to be viewed.

In order for a consumer to gaze at an online display ad for one full second, it needs to be visible on a Webpage for 14 seconds, on average, per recent research from InSkin Media, Research Now and sticky. This means that even the most stringent GroupM viewability requirements won’t necessarily result in user engagement.

The amount of time people spend looking at online ads also varies significantly by format.

For example, based on their research participants spent 7.5 seconds, on average, looking at takeover ads, whereas they spent only 0.7 seconds looking a mid-page unit (MPU) display ads. In addition, ad gaze time decreases 37%, on average, and ad recall decreases 20%, on average, if a page is cluttered (filled with content and other ads).

The placement on the page also has a significant impact on the level of engagement. According to a Mediative eye-tracking study 50% more ads were viewed above the fold compared to below the fold, and ads above the fold were viewed for 87% longer.

Although viewability standards can increase the overall quality of online ads, viewability by itself is not an adequate measurement of ad quality.

Success of digital advertising can be best determined by an ad’s attractiveness to a viewer, relevance and ability to enrich the user experience. Advertisers will need to win over viewers by giving them more opportunity to view an ad.




1 comment about "Irony of Ad Viewability Metrics: Views Don't Always Equate With Engagement ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 5, 2017 at 5:46 p.m.

    Asaf, you are quite right in pointing out that even if a digital ad is fully "viewable" that, in and of itself, does not guarantee advertising communication nor effectiveness. The same thing is true for all media. However, the basic difference between digital and other media is that audiences attained by the content for TV, radio and print vehicles have a 100% opportunity to be effectively exposed to any and all ads, while this is not the case with digital and certainly not under the IAB's very seller-generous standard. I am well aware of the problems in getting digital ads fully exposed---in the sense that a user could actually read or see their content in its entirety---if this was desired. Still, if digital wishes to play cross media with "legacy media" it must do so on a level playing field. The only way to do that is to find a strictly comparable definition of "viewability" and charge advertisers only when this is attained. The definition may vary by type of ad---fpr example a 5-second video commercial vs. a 15-second video commercial or various types of static and other display ads. A single--all encompassing definition such as that proposed by the IAB is unlikely to be acceptable----in my opinion.

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