Facebook: Counting Viewed Impressions Is A ‘No-Brainer’

FacebookViewabilityIf an ad isn’t seen, that ad shouldn’t be counted. That’s Facebook’s position on viewability in a nutshell.

As the debate around viewability swirls, Facebook outlined its point of view in a blog post Wednesday.

“It doesn’t make sense for advertisers to count impressions that never enter a person’s viewable area,” said Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s VP of measurement and insights. “If an ad isn’t being viewed by a person in some way, then there’s no opportunity to create any value for the advertiser. It’s a no-brainer.”

In other words, even if only a portion of an ad is in view for a brief period of time, there’s still the chance for that piece of advertising to have some kind of impact. The problem afflicting the industry is its continued obsession with counting served impressions, which aren’t necessarily seen by a human or even a bot.

Facebook’s ad server, on both desktop and mobile, counts only viewed impressions, not served impressions.

This perspective on viewability attracted The Wendy’s Co., which started investing more heavily in digital about three or four years ago, said Brandon Rhoten, Wendy’s VP of digital and social media. Part of what held Wendy’s back from spending more on digital earlier was a lack of confidence that it would actually drive business results.

“What frustrates us when we run a campaign is that there’s almost no acknowledgement that the campaign even existed in the first place,” Rhoten told AdExchanger. “When you have a purely programmatic buy, the numbers that come back from the media platform might say we had X million impressions, but when we look at what people were meant to be doing – clicking or visiting or downloading – our numbers often don’t match up. Some things aren’t being measured in a way that’s practical for the brand.”

The brand has increased its spend with Facebook “pretty significantly” every year for the past three years.

“They’re willing to hold themselves to a standard we can both agree is acceptable, and they’re actually trying to get ad dollars from our TV budget rather than our digital budget,” Rhoten said. “They’re saying, ‘We have to prove that this is as effective as traditional media.’”

Smallwood said the ad industry has undermined itself by conflating the concept of viewable impressions with questions around what percentage of an ad needs to appear in a viewable area or how long a video should play before it results in sufficient value.

“That’s part of what’s paralyzing the industry in moving forward,” Smallwood said. “What Facebook’s saying is, ‘Let’s agree that impressions need to be viewable and then we’ll deal with the second issue, which will be more about creating guidelines than creating an accounting mechanism.’”

Smallwood acknowledged that not all publishers, especially the more traditional ones, like the idea of changing the way they’re used to counting impressions, but he argued that that’s what has to happen if the industry wants to reduce the discrepancy between viewed and simply served.

When a publisher’s ad server delivers an ad, the only guarantee is that the system registered delivery, not that the ad was seen.

“Some people say they just ignore advertising, but even the act of ignoring advertising can still create value for an advertiser,” Smallwood said. “That’s the rationale behind our using the moment of viewing as the measure.”

Of course, high-quality creative with stopping power is the ultimate goal. But that’s the next step. First, the ad has to be seen.

It’s a very advertiser-focused posture, rather than the more publisher-centric pronouncements coming out of the IAB.

“We’re taking that stance to make sure that ads start creating value,” Smallwood said. “It’s up to us to work with our advertisers to demonstrate value and that will come from collaboration.”

Part of that collaboration – and perhaps compromise – is accepting that 100% or bust isn’t necessarily the best way to derive value for advertisers.

“Starcom MediaVest believes that viewability is a key metric in evaluating our clients’ digital media [and] we fully promote the use of fractional attribution analytics using data to maximize business returns,” said Kate Sirkin, Starcom’s EVP and director of global research.  “But focusing on viewability in a silo or shifting to purchasing only 100% viewable impressions can leave significant value untapped.”

And it’s all about the value, said Julian Zilberbrand, EVP of activation standards, insights and technology at ZenithOptimedia.

“The only impressions that should be counted are the ones that create value,” Zilberbrand said. “There should not be any other definition of the word ‘impression.’”

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  1. I find the reluctance by some agencies and ad tech companies to embrace 100% view ability puzzling. If they’re in the business of doing the best for their client, those entities should be fully onboard 100% viewability, which is a necessary requirement for action.

    Facebook should be applauded for doing the right thing here and advertisers should be asking the Starcom’s of the world why they aren’t focused on the right thing.

  2. Anonymous

    Facebook should not be “applauded” when they are literally the last publisher to come around to viewability as an important measurement concept. Viewability has been around since 2010 and Facebook has balked the whole way. They still won’t accept 3rd party viewability tracking… In reality Facebook is just finally caving in to advertisers.

  3. Great read, but it’s not clear who is validating or certifying that the ad is ‘seen.’

  4. Come on, we are talking about common sense. Everybody who is charging for impressions not visible for a user is doing fraud. period.

  5. The article starts with a very misleading sentence.
    “If an ad isn’t seen, that ad shouldn’t be counted. That’s Facebook’s position on viewability in a nutshell.”
    Viewability does not tell anyone if an ad impression was actually seen. Viewability lets you know if the ad impression had the opportunity to be seen. Actually seen is an entirely different metric.
    Technology is helping brands know more about their media spend. Digital is the most measurable media. Old traditional media cannot come close to accurate measurement on whether a brands ad was actually seen.
    While viewability is a step in the right direction, it still only tells you if the paid for ad impression had the potential to be seen.

    The next currency is actually SEEN and how long. Fortune 100 companies are already using this currency and smart publishers are too. Just because an ad impression is in screen does not mean it was actually SEEN.

  6. FB inventory has always been viewable. Can’t be late to the game when you are already doing it…

  7. A new metric of success could be introduced using time spent on a page. Yes an impression gets counted as seen, but if the page view time spent is only 1 sec, then I doubt the person saw the ad or it even struck a chord with them.

  8. I postulate this question upon you – If you are in a feed based system and you scroll past an ad after seeing it, then scroll back up to it, should that count as an impression again? Ponder it before the knee jerk reaction of no – because refreshing the page and seeing the same ad is kinda no different. Its been an interesting debate in setting up our own advertisement system. I’m curious – our outcome was to track both views and viewable ad impressions and offer purchase plans on both to be transparent. What do you community members feel?