Vivek Shah, CEO of Ziff-Davis and Chairman of the IAB did a terrific job earlier this month at IAB MIXX and in a WSJ op-ed reinforcing why viewability is critical, while also explaining the important work that still needs to be done. This coincided with the reconvening of the Blue-Ribbon Committee (which I served on in its first phase to define the standard). It also led to the MRC’s advisory to media, which included these important guidelines:
- If an impression’s viewability can’t be measured, then it doesn’t mean it’s not viewable or worthless;
- It is not realistic (or even possible) to expect 100% viewability so there needs to be a more a measured set of expectations during this complex transition. As Vivek stated, no other media has attempted this level of measurement.
Publishers can’t bear the cost of the entire transition and, as such, the agencies using this opportunity as a price-negotiating tactic are doing a great disservice to the industry, their clients and publishers. Additionally, any marketplace confusion is not helpful in establishing this new currency. It’s why a group of advertisers, agencies and media companies agreed on the standard of 50% of a display ad for a minimum of one second.
Let me illustrate why these points are essential in evolving viewability with a personal story: I have a bedtime routine with our two toddler boys where they can ask dad any question they want to. Any parent reading this will realize that dad often doesn’t know the answers to their questions. Last week, our five year old made some significant inquiries into the nature of bricks: What are they made of? Why are they all the same size? Why do they sometimes have holes in them? How are they so strong? And like many parents out there, after a kiss goodnight, I headed straight to Wikipedia so that I could have better informed answers ready at the breakfast table. It turns out bricks are the same size so that they fit in the mason’s hands and are interchangeable. The mason’s craft shapes these bricks into something useful and enduring.
Viewability is our brick. If we–marketers, publishers and everyone who serves their interests–don’t get it right and make it as strong as it can be, then our building will crumble. Our first go at building this digital landscape was built off of impressions defined by pings of ad servers. It turns out that those ads served weren’t viewable as much as 80% of the time. When technology improvements allowed us to see this problem, the need for a different standard for an impression became clear, preferably one not based on clicks and direct response metrics that undervalue the trust and equity of brand marketers and high quality content companies. The good work of the IAB, ANA and AAAAs has now given us a standard for our brick that is fair to everyone. Rolling it out won’t happen overnight and we all need to share equally in that effort.
But if we can agree that viewability is the brick, then what are we going to build? I believe the answer is the house of time and attention.
I was thrilled with all of the discussion and positive reaction to my column during Advertising Week on Why Attention is Worth More than the Click. Transacting on time was something that we discussed early on in 2012 as the natural next step of viewability and it is clear that, in the intervening years, progress has been made on this front. Here at Digital Content Next (formerly the Online Publishers Association), we conducted research among our members to examine time-based measurement and just last week we released a whitepaper “How time-Based Measurement is Grabbing Digital Publishers’ Attention,” which explores the results. We also had the opportunity to discuss the topic with industry leaders at a private member event.
And the evidence is clear: The time is right to build a more robust and resilient digital ecosystem in which we evaluate engagement and measure impact on something sturdier than crumbling clicks. Viewability is the brick from which we can build meaningful time-based measurement. This will require both strategic and technological changes. At DCN, we recommend that organizations reassess their measurement capabilities; implement viewability (if you’ve not already), report the total attention time on campaigns, whether advertisers ask for it or not; and equip ad operations and yield management teams with the tools to understand the value of the time your audience spends with your content. As Mike Donahue, EVP, 4A’s noted to me recently, this isn’t a quick fix but we know the steps: “Once we have the opportunity to see (viewability) nailed as a first step cross-platform currency, the sequential next step currency is engagement. Short of scalable, affordable neuro measures (of emotional response), time is the best surrogate to measure engagement.”