The divide between publishers and advertisers around viewability sharpened during a Tuesday morning panel “Inside The Mind Of The Advertiser,” hosted by analytics provider Integral Ad Science.
This wasn’t much of a surprise considering one panelist was Ari Bluman, GroupM's chief digital investment officer for North America. GroupM has taken a notoriously hardline stance around viewability, insisting on only paying for ads where all pixels are in view.
“An ad that's not seen is worth zero,” Bluman said. “Not less. It's worth zero.”
Many on the sell side feel this position is too draconian. Matt Prohaska, a New York Times vet and CEO of Prohaska Consulting, told AdExchanger in a previous interview that even non-viewable ads have value since they can still cookie a user.
Bluman said this might be worthwhile for some media buyers, but not for an agency as large as GroupM, which he said has all the data it needs.
Rachel Herskovitz, global media manager at American Express, echoed Bluman’s sentiment around non-viewable inventory.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy too, and we’re working through what’s possible with that zero-tolerance policy today,” she said. She expects publisher partners to be on the same page in terms of rigorously monitoring ad quality.
“We’ll be thinking about how that works when we go to market and buy, and it’s very important for our publisher partners to have zero tolerance as well,” she said.
Herskovitz also acknowledged multiple hurdles around buying viewable impressions or avoiding fraudulent impressions.
Last March, the MRC gave the okay for companies to transact online display around the basis of viewability, defining it as an ad that’s 50% in-view for one second.
But Herskovitz said the standard – often considered a jumping-off point meant to catalyze further discussion around viewability – is inadequate.
“I don't agree with MRC standards,” she said. “Their definition of viewability doesn’t make sense. No one spends a second viewing an ad. If that becomes our standard, we'll build technology around that and I think that's a mistake.”
Yet she agreed there needs to be a consensus standard accepted across the advertising industry.
“If every brand and agency has a different standard, we’re all screwed,” she said, adding it’s still unclear what the right standard is.
And even if both sell-side and buy-side entities unite around a single viewability standard, there are different measuring methodologies, just as there are multiple vendors accredited by the MRC.
Herskovitz said she was aware of the differences, stating that her top criteria is transparency.
“If we’re not measuring viewability the same way a publisher is measuring viewability, they need to be transparent about it, then we can talk about it and solve it,” she said. “We want to work with as many partners as we can, but we can’t do that unless there’s transparency. That’s the biggest baseline for us.”
But there’s another point of contention between publishers and advertisers: Publishers want to charge more for viewable inventory. This policy is a non-starter for Herskovitz.
“Why should we pay more for something that needs to be seen?” she said. “That doesn’t make sense.” She harkened back to the way TV advertising is sold: If a television ad airs, the advertiser pays.
Of course, the online ad economy is more complicated. Carol Chung, SVP of media technology at Digitas – which works with American Express – said that depending on campaign goals, inventory with low viewability can perform well. (“Allegedly,” Bluman interjected.)
Chung’s point was that the desire to pay more for highly viewable inventory and less for inventory with low viewability is too simplistic.
“You can’t have a conversation about pricing and just talk about viewability,” she said. “To set accurate pricing, you need to go all the way through to the end, and there are multiple levers to pull. There’s the performance, plus the pricing, plus the viewability, plus whatever frequency factors you have.”