We Can See Clear(er) Now: Parsing MRC’s Viewability ‘Version 2.0’

ethanvanauken-updatedMarketer’s Note” is a regular column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem.

This week it is written by Ethan Van Auken, Analyst, AdExchanger Research.

The Media Rating Council (MRC) released an official update to its viewability guidelines on Aug. 18. Dubbed “Version 2.0,” the update focuses on circumstantial “Well, what about …”- type questions, without tinkering with the original guidelines for measurement.

Of all the MRC’s Version 2.0 modifications, I found the two most interesting to be how to measure multi-ad units and how to proceed if there are multiple measurement vendor tags.

For multi-ad units, the MRC advises marketers to consider each ad separately, rather than as a whole. Both advertisers and publishers should applaud this decision because the resulting granularity will enable improved understanding of performance – and negotiating leverage – for both parties. I was particularly intrigued by the perspective on the deals involving multiple ads, which made me consider the future ramifications of such pacts.

“In a case where the viewability of multiple ad units is required under the terms of a buy,” the MRC states, “each ad should be measured independently for viewability, and reported independently for viewability, regardless of whether the terms of the campaign specify that more than one (or all) of the multiple units must be viewable.”

I immediately saw this as an invitation to publishers to get a little Vegas-y in their proposals. Knowing that each ad will be measured independently enables publisher sales teams to offer pricier viewable multi-ad solutions and assume the risk of make-goods if not all impressions are in view. The alternative would be to structure more conservative and lower-value deals that ensure a certain percentage of the ads qualified as in-view, and not be on the hook for the whole hog. Advertisers and their representatives should be pleased by the flexibility on offer as well as the nuanced results and corresponding ROI.

The MRC appears to have dealt a bit of a blow to the viewability measurement landscape with its recommendation on multiple measurement tags, otherwise known as pixel tracking. As I interpreted the note, which was news to me, vendors are not required to measure ads if a competing vendor’s tag is present or if someone else serves the ad.

But the recommendation also suggests that if a vendor opted out of measurement, it should inform the advertiser they’ve opted out and quantify the effect of doing so. I imagine this would enable the end user to back into the number, but really, they shouldn’t have to. I see this as an opportunity for vendors to showcase their capability.

There are many options – I count 17 [PDF] – available for MRC-accredited viewability measurement. I believe that in such a crowded landscape, vendors should relish the opportunity to go head-to-head against their competition because opting out might suggest a lack of confidence in their offerings.

Lastly, we are reminded that these recommendations are for desktop only, with “permanent” mobile browser and in-app guidelines to come by the end of 2015. I expect we will see even more updates as this is an innovative industry seldom content with the status quo, to say nothing of constant and increasing advertiser scrutiny of their digital spend.

Until then, I look forward to watching the market develop around these new notes and the issues that will warrant Version 3.0, 4.0 and so on. In the meantime, I welcome any other comments and thoughts on the Version 2.0 release or the subject in general.

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