Demanding 100% Viewability Makes A Good Headline, But It Isn’t Worth The Price

viewabilityCleansAdsKeith Pieper, VP of technology at IMM, will be on hand to discuss approaches to viewability testing at the May 24 CLEAN ADS I/O conference in New York.

One hundred percent sounds like the best there is – but that’s not 100% true when it comes to viewability.

According to separate pieces of research conducted by digital marketing agency IMM and programmatic media planning and buying company the Goodway Group, the economics of delivering 100% viewable campaigns don’t make financial sense, at least not yet.

For marketers measuring ROI by online sales revenue or lifetime value minus the cost of media, targeting 60% viewability seems to deliver the best bang for their buck, although that won’t necessarily be the case for every client, said Keith Pieper, IMM’s VP of technology.

“It’s about finding the right threshold,” Pieper said. “What is the incremental value of that extra point of viewability for the extra CPM you’re paying?”

IMM ran a number of viewability tests for clients, including one with a telecom looking at private Deal ID inventory buys across a variety of publishers with guaranteed higher viewability. The conclusion: Paying more for higher viewability as a way to maximize conversion rate is a smart move, but only up to a point. After about 50%, the cost-benefit ratio starts to slip.

Goodway Group noticed a similar trend in its own research examining 1 billion impressions across inventory sold programmatically on the open exchange and through private marketplace deals.

Although it found that viewability improves conversion rate by 8% to 9%, that tapers off fairly quickly. Sites with between 30% and 40% viewability rates were the best value for money in terms of CPM paid to conversion generated. For sites with 80%-plus viewability, the conversion did not justify the CPM.

“I maintain to this day that 50% in-view at $4 beats 100% viewability at $10 all day long,” said Jay Friedman, COO of the Goodway Group.

But that doesn’t mean advertisers and their agencies aren’t demanding 100% viewability or bust – both in terms of overall campaign delivery and the number of pixels per impression.

GroupM in particular has been downright vociferous.

“Frankly, if an ad isn’t viewable, it’s worthless,” said John Montgomery, chairman of GroupM North America, in a previous interview with AdExchanger. “[And] If an ad can’t be seen, then we can’t expect clients to pay for it.”

It’s hard to argue with the second point.

But even impressions that fall short of the Media Rating Council minimum standard for display of 50% of pixels in-view for one second aren’t automatically worthless, Goodway found.

Say someone sees 50% of a display ad featuring a Heinz ketchup bottle or the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World for 0.98 seconds. “Even if you see less than half the ad, there’s going to be instant recognition, so 100% doesn’t do all that much more for me,” Friedman said. “This is more about brand recognition and creative than it is about the standard.”

Of all the impressions Goodway surveyed, roughly 8% had half or more of their pixels in view for more than zero seconds but less than one second (the minimum). These impressions are measurable, but discarded because it’s assumed they’re not making an impact even though they very well might be.

But there are also some impressions that are straight-up unmeasurable, not to mention the impact of fraud, slow-loading tags and the discrepancies that still exist between measurement vendors.

“Even if there’s an ad at the top of the screen, you may scroll right past it before the page loads, which is a huge factor that can influence a site’s viewability score or viewability on a campaign,” Pieper said.

None of this means 100% viewability isn’t possible. Publishers sell it and vendors guarantee it. It’s a question, rather, of performance versus value for money.

“Viewability should be a baseline on the road to your KPI,” Friedman said, “not the KPI itself.”

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  1. Andrew

    Viewability would be the most important metric if all cookies were a commodity and had the same value. However it the value of cookies is not flat, it is not linear, it is exponential. The top 10% of cookies will exponentially outperform the bottom 10%. The top 1% will outperform the top 10% exponentially also. It is of paramount importance to get in front of the top scoring cookies for maximum impact.
    The conversation should be changed from what the minimum Viewability of a campaign should be, to what is the effective frequency that I am willing to average to get in front of the right cookies.
    When the Viewability threshold is at 70%, on any given impression, 92% of the available cookies are eliminated – which makes it difficult to target the most impactful cookies. The more the Viewability threshold is lowered, it the better the cookies you will be able to target.
    Advertisers don’t pay for impressions, they pay for the targeting of impressions. They are making a bet that they can have more impact from less viewable impressions to better cookies.

  2. Mac Delaney

    A man walks into a top rated Chicago steakhouse and asks to speak to the chef. The chef appears and the man explains that he would like to order the bone-in filet, their signature cut, and that he expects it to be the best steak he’s ever eaten. If it isn’t, the man says, he will not pay the full price. The chef is puzzled. The man goes on to explain that he will rank the steak on a scale of 1-10. Should the steak truly be a 10, the best he’s ever eaten, he will gladly pay the full price. If, however, the steak is a 9 he will deduct 10% from the full price, an 8 – 20%, and so on all the way down to 0.

    The chef, intrigued, agrees to the bizarre proposition. ‘You are a wise man chef, I can see myself dining here quite often. By the way, how much is the steak?’ ‘We accommodate all kinds sir. The steak is normally $40 but for you – $80.’

    Believing you’re getting a ‘better deal’ by strong arming publishers into guaranteeing 100% viewable impressions doesn’t make for good headlines. It doesn’t make for good anything. In fact, it’s the buying mandate equivalent to demanding a wall be built dividing the US from Mexico – it’s financially and technically preposterous, promised by an entity ungrounded in the realities of the world we live in who’s more interested in ginning up an already dissatisfied client base than productively solving the core challenge. What comes next are the infinite burned cycles of time and energy, resulting in squandered opportunity to truly innovate and scorched relationships in an era where publisher relationships are everything.

    Demanding 100% viewable impressions actually makes you look dated, as if we’re still in a world where buyers wield 2x4s and sellers submit to their every demand. Publishers actually don’t have to bend, not when the asks of today are about data sharing and integration. The future of marketing is about collaboration and partnership; about trust and exploration in an unfinished, imperfect world for the good of progress. The marketers who will win are those that establish relationships with publishers built on shared success, not those that demand perfection. Meanwhile, any publisher who does agree to this demand will do so by inflating their CPMs, a completely fair response to an impossible ask I might add.

    So Marketers, if your agency is boasting this ‘take it or leave it approac’ know that there is a much better way. Merkle is doing it right now together with the world’s most trusted brands and the industry’s most influential publishers. The greatest work – the kind of work that results in truly progressive innovation – happens in the space created by this new approach. And in this space there is no room for bullies.

  3. I agree with many of the points and statements within this article, however I am dubious of the conversion uplift research. The industry at large is generally awarding conversion attribution to ads that are totally out of view. Whether or not the research stripped out totally out-of-view ads from conversion attribution I do not know, but I would not be surprised if they were included.
    To that effect I will be able to guarantee that I will get some conversions from a campaign where 100% of the ads were TOTALLY out of view, and there is no common-sense logic that should accept this to be right. These ads clearly have no influence as they were not seen, but they will still be rewarded with conversion attribution within many platforms. We as an industry have focussed on removing non-viewable impressions from the buy, but the problem also lies in conversions that are still being rewarded to unseen ads. This is systematic of the problem we as an industry have with last click/view attribution, and the current trend of stuffing ads at the bottom of the funnel to win the sale.
    The industry needs to focus on messages that INFLUENCE a consumer to convert, not about winning the last click/imp attribution game. Advertisers should be stripping out those non-viewable impressions from the user’s path to conversion. Only by utilising a fractional attribution methodology for awarding conversion credit will you get close to understanding the true influence of each media touchpoint.

  4. Steven

    So what are the viewability metrics on the advertiser’s TV budgets? Surely they aren’t demanding 100% viewability.

    • Steven, traditional TV viewability can’t yet be measured. But ask any CMO what their best guess is around traditional TV viewability and I’d wager it’s significantly higher than the reality.

  5. Interesting research from IMM, and I really like the quote from John Montgomery. Viewable percentage is, of course, important, but it’s been a preoccupation of the digital industry for too long. In-view doesn’t necessarily mean seen – by viewability standards an ad only needs to be in-view for 1 second. This needs to be evolved to the exposure time of the ad, which accounts for the viewability as well as the time that it was in-view for. This time-based model has already been successfully adopted by several publishers in the industry, with advertisers only paying when their ads are in-view for 5 seconds or longer.