“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.
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.’”