Commentary

Viewability Is Mobile Marketing's Achilles Heel

It's all the rage -- it's where our attention is turning. Mobile advertising has now overtaken desktop in both the UK and U.S., according to the respective IAB figures. 

There's just one problem -- viewability. The latest research from Meetrics shows that two unsavoury facts for the UK digital marketing industry remain. The first is one that we are accustomed to. The UK has the unwelcome crown of being the worst advertising market for viewability. It almost seems too convenient to be true, but advertisers really are wasting half their money. Just 47% of digital display in the UK is viewable, and the figure for Q1 2017 is down from 49%.

To put that into context, 67% of display is viewable in Austria (always at the top of the table) and 60% in France. Germany is just lagging a little behind at 55%.

The Meetrics researchers estimate that if you correlate this with the latest IAB/PwC figures for annual digital ad spend, this could be costing British advertisers three-quarters of a billion pounds per year. 

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The fact that the UK is doing poorly in viewability will come as no surprise to anyone in digital marketing. The fact that the market leads on mobile ad spend will also come as no surprise. Thus, the researchers are linking the two and directly proportioning the blame for the first-quarter viewability slip on mobile marketing. 

How so? Well, regular readers will know it's an issue that has been discussed in this blog before. The irony is that mobile can impact viewability on desktop as well as the small screen. That's because mobile browsing has ushered in the era of the long, vertical page. These are great for browsing with a single thumb because there's a lot less finding fiddly buttons to navigate through. Instead, everything is available in long lists.

At the same time, advertisers have realised that they need to be more bold to stand out. Hence, page takeovers and background ads that occupy the entire page or the sides of the screen have become more common. Because the pages are now so long, if someone doesn't scroll down, it's unlikely that half of the ad will be seen. Remember, in order to be viewable, an ad must have half of its pixels on the viewable part of the screen for a full second.

There is also the obvious complication of mobile's long page not always being scrolled down fully on a mobile device, meaning that there is a lot of space under the part of the page being read for inventory to go unnoticed. Meetrics researchers also point out that in their experience, there are still technical problems -- particularly when desktop display is converted to mobile, which means banners may not fully downloaded fast enough. The page viewer often scrolls down before the main banner appears. 

This is obviously an issue that will become more pronounced as the move from desktop to mobile gathers momentum. We're only now at the tipping point where more is being spent on mobile than desktop, and it is easy to suggest this trend will continue. As it does, it's also inevitable that viewability will worsen. 

Even if some advertisers are able to track unviewable inventory and have it replaced with new spots or a reimbursement -- the picture on refunds looks at best patchy -- it's worth noting that the greatest impact is that a campaign may flop because less than half your spend has resulted in a human seeing your message. If the point was to drive footfall for a new sale or get people in showrooms checking our your new car range, then that has to be a major negative point to take into consideration -- regardless of whether there is some form of redress further down the line.

This is a huge question mark hanging over mobile marketing, which suggests that display will struggle to make the transition from desktop unscathed. Given a hit ratio of less than one in two, it's likely that other channels -- such as native, influencer, notifications, beacons, social and video -- will continue to attract the attention of marketers. It would certainly be a way of avoiding telling the CFO that you really did live up to the advertising quip of wasting half your budget.

This article was previously published in the London Blog on May 3, 2017.

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