Is Viewability a Guarantee for Success?

Viewability has become the most recent buzzword in online advertising. Learn more about what viewability is and if it is a true measure of campaign success.

The digital advertising world has been all abuzz with ‘viewability’, a complex subject that is changing how the success of a campaign is measured and has become a major selling point among several advertising platforms. There has been some debate surrounding viewability but before getting to the nitty-gritty behind the discussion, let us begin with understanding what viewability is.

What is Viewability?

Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS), a cross-industry initiative, was founded by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), in an effort to fix digital measurement. After exhaustive research, the major players and working teams of leaders from across the ecosystem determined the single most important need to shift currency from served impressions to viewable impressions.

According to the Media Rating Council (MRC), an independent body responsible for setting and implementing measurement standards, the definition of viewability varies depending on the type of ad unit:

  • Video ads are considered viewable if 50 percent of the pixels are on screen for a minimum of two seconds
  • Desktop display ads are considered viewable if 50 percent of the pixels are on screen for a minimum of one second
  • Large format ads are considered viewable if 30 percent of pixels are in view for one second

If these minimum thresholds are not met, an ad will not be counted as viewable and therefore, unbillable. This is in contrast to the way publisher sites work now in which all ads are immediately served as soon as a page loads, the impressions are counted and all the advertising costs are applied.

The Problem with Viewability

On the surface, viewability sounds logical since any ad, if unseen by the audience, can’t be considered effective. However, while viewability can be a fundamental part of the growth of online advertising, it is not the be-all and end-all that many consider it to be. One reason is that viewability does not take fraudulent activity into account. In a study conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and ad fraud solutions White Ops in December 2014, it was determined that among 181 campaigns from 36 ANA members, bots caused 23 percent of all video impressions and 11 percent of display ads.

Let’s say for example that bots come across one of your campaigns multiple times – this would result in an outstanding viewability rating, but no conversion. On the other hand, let’s say you place an ad at the prominent part of a website, which could lead to multiple conversions; however, if the said website becomes unresponsive, you would then have 0 percent viewability rating. Therefore, if you are basing the success of your campaign on viewability rating alone, then the latter example will be a failure, while the former one will be considered successful – and it makes no sense.

It is also worth noting that the IAB has issued a “State of Viewability Transaction 2015” which specifies that 100 percent viewability measurement is still impossible, and recommends that 70 percent is, for the moment, the best threshold for buyers and sellers, referring to 2015 as a year of transition.

At the same time, while the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) was one of the major players involved with developing viewable impression, it has, since the IAB’s issuance of its viewability standard, sent out a letter to some members saying that the 70 percent threshold is not good enough for them and will not endorse the IAB guidelines.

When all is said and done, a favorable viewability rating is all well and good, but it should not be considered as a metric of success in and of itself. Conversion rates speak for themselves and will provide you with a truer measure of campaign success.