An Agency Perspective On Ad Viewability

An Agency Perspective On Ad Viewability
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Ad viewability is a topic we’ve had to deal with great sensitivity when discussing with clients, and here Martyn Shaw gives us his low-down.

This article has been republished with permission from Which-50.

As an industry we’re very comfortable revealing a problem when we have an antidote up our sleeve ready to solve it.

With viewability however we have a challenge that’s been well documented by the trade press but unfortunately it’s a can of worms without a viable solution yet, and that makes advertisers feel very uncomfortable.

The burning question is why has such a significant breakthrough in ad tech provoked so much discomfort, anger and mistrust? You only have to read the provocative headlines in the trade press to see who’s portrayed as the villain. Bold headlines such as ‘Trouble brewing’ ‘Wasted money’ ‘Publishers wary of increased scrutiny’ really paint the picture of the industry screwing over media buyers, and those buyers letting it happen.

Publishers are being carved out as the villain exploiting advertisers, and as a media agency it’s our job to protect our clients from the tricks of the trade. No marketer wants to know half of their money is being wasted so I can completely understand the frustration. What would the knee jerk solution be to quash that discomfort? Stamping our foot down and saying loud and proud “I will only pay for ads that have been seen!”. Bravo Mr agency, thank you for protecting me against the nasty publisher.

Buying guaranteed viewability – Who wins?

Who wins? Why you of course! How could you not? Ads seen are better than ads not seen, correct? Yes absolutely, but the question is how much is it worth to be 100 per cent viewable? Would you be happy to pay more than double your CPM for it?

Insisting on only buying inventory from publishers that’s 100 per cent viewable puts the power firmly back into the publisher’s hands, it’s another premium layer that can drive up their ad yield and your CPMs.

As a media buyer the easy option is to say you’ll only buy 100 per cent viewable inventory and you may even get a low cost inflation due to first mover advantage ahead of the pack. Although that’s a really shortsighted answer to the solution, what happens over time when everyone’s buying 100 per cent viewable? The market takes a shift for the worst, suddenly publishers are charging extortionate rates for their viewable impressions, and selling their ‘low viewability ratio’ inventory at knock down rates.

It’s not our job to react to client demands and give them what they want, our job is to understand the landscape, communicate clearly to clients and take leadership in states of confusion. Media is probably about 10 per cent – 20 per cent of our client’s day to day focus, so we can’t expect them to know the answer, they rely on us to support them with our expertise.

There’s gold below the fold

Have you ever noticed that you sometime get hooked by websites, reading content piece after content piece? Do you ever wonder how you get caught up in their web of Kim Kardashian stories? Well it’s likely you don’t scroll back to the top of the page, just like with video tapes and cassettes, we don’t take kindly to rewinding! Instead you’ll often see content links at the bottom of the page, craftily aligned to dovetail with the content you’re reading. No need to trawl back to the top of the page, you’re ready to keep on rolling.

These are valued readers by any publisher, they’ve managed to make it to the end of an article, and in today’s age of narrowing attention span that takes some discipline.

Perhaps only 20 per cent – 30 per cent of people make it down to the depths of below the fold, but for the Guardian it’s those resolute folk who are worth fighting for. We can learn a lot from publishers in their tactics to keep their site sticky, why else would we have such a thirst for native ad formats? If it’s good enough for them then as an advertiser we should think twice about ignoring low view ratio inventory.

Take Car Advice for example, a site rich in detail with really lengthy engrossing content. When I’ve used this site in the past it’s their below the fold ad formats which deliver the most efficient conversions (that’s post click conversions i’m comparing, but more on that later).

To the knee jerker, that’s implausible. “I’m on the same site with an 80 per cent viewable ratio leaderboard, how can you get better performance with a 20 per cent viewable ad? Surely mine should be four times as effective?”.

My theory is that users who don’t make it to the bottom of the page (aptly I’ll call them ‘tire kickers’ for my Car Advice example) are not engrossed in the content enough to make it down there, and therefore that one person out of five who does is worth so much more than the other four tire kickers. They’re keen, they are engaged and focused enough to keep reading. All I need to do is offer the navigational solution to match their desires, and if I’m targeted enough, and have relevant messaging then it will likely be money well spent. If I was buying on a viewability ratio these gold nuggets would be overlooked.

Embrace measurement to stay in control

In many ways the call for guaranteed viewability is history repeating itself from the days of buying on a guaranteed Cost Per Acquisition (CPA). The ad technology evolved enough for accountability over the acquisitions generated and our instant reaction is to hand accountability back to the publishers to guarantee our returns. Similar to a fixed rate mortgage the security of a guarantee is more often than not stacked in the seller’s favor, exploiting the market knowledge gap between buyer and seller.

Over time media buyers took the CPA responsibility back into their own hands, choosing to buy on a CPM and work this back into the effective CPA value (saving the guaranteed cost margin). What we can learn from CPA buying is that to maintain a competitive edge no one should know more than you about how your media is performing.

By embracing measurement we utilise the tools we have to get a comprehensive view of our media against a clear objective, avoiding jumping through endless hoops of vanity proxies. The more robust our measurement is the better decisions we’ll make as media buyers and this is how you gain a competitive edge. Programmatic is removing the friction between campaign insights and media buying, making a robust measurement framework absolutely vital to remain competitive.

We need to look past viewability and focus on what this technology can do for our measurement. I want to be able to see value in placements that others can’t and I especially want to expose flawed placements which everyone else perceives of value.

Here’s three enhancements I’m looking forward to:

Genuinely viewed post view conversions 

Behind all the scaremongering about non-viewed inventory there is a very real flaw in the current measurement of media – the unseen post viewed conversion. This is ultimately an ad that you haven’t clicked but you’ve gone through to the site since to buy the product. Unseen ads can be counted as post view conversions which is unfair and unjustified recognition. If you haven’t seen the ad on the page, yet it’s been counted as a post view conversion then I don’t think anyone could argue it’s had zero effect on that sale.

To make matters worse, if three ads are loaded down a page only the last one loaded is going to get the post view conversion; and as a page loads from top to bottom which of the three ads do you think is loaded last and claims the post view?! Post view conversions are the scourge of performance activity for this reason, but I believe viewability technology is going to be the answer.

At the moment Google’s Doubleclick adserver have viewability measurement in silo to the rest of the interface, but as soon as this is integrated we will be able to remove post view conversions that were in fact not seen. This will be a revelation for advertisers and help remove those publishers making a living off unfair recognition. For anyone using an attribution model the potential to remove unseen ads from the path to conversion will significantly enhance campaign analysis. We’ll be able to see which ads were pivotal in the path to conversion and which just limped along in the background taking a slice of the credit.

Visible reach and frequency

For brand campaigns viewability is a great way to measure audience reach across our audience. If half of my ads are not seen then it’s really hard for me to put a figure on the amount of people I’ve exposed my message to, and control the frequency of my delivery. If viewability can discount the impressions unseen then we should be able to layer this into our reporting very soon.

Do the savviest shoppers always buy the best quality? Absolutely not. Growing up my mum would evaluate everything she bought against the value she got in return. She’d take hours in the supermarket. Media is no different, we need to have a clear focus on value against our objectives and remain true to that, balancing price against quality.

Rather than buy on 100 per cent viewable impressions we have the tools to work our media back to a cost per user reached. Once you factor the cost implications of media into your viewability comparisons it might be more cost efficient to take a lower viewability ratio with one publisher over a higher priced alternative.

Visible brand uplift studies

When running brand uplift studies of my campaigns against both a control and exposed pool of users I’ve always been bemused over the results I’ve seen. In most cases they indicate one thing – Buy takeovers to drive efficient impact. Whilst this might be true it may also have something to do with takeovers being 100 per cent viewable which skew the results against placements that aren’t so visible.

I want to prove the impact digital can have on brand perception and purchase intent, but given half my ads are unseen then these supposedly ‘exposed’ users are blunting the impact of the results when their brand survey results show no impact of the ad served. If we are able to detect these unseen impressions we should be able to move these people back into the ‘control’ group and focus our brand uplift results from people who’ve genuinely been exposed to our messaging.

Media agencies should be excited about Viewability

There’s been little in the trade press from media agencies about viewability but that doesn’t mean we’re not ready to embrace it. Publications such as AdWeek are advising that a ‘good’ viewability rate you should be looking for is 60 per cent. We need to avoid tying ourselves up with industry benchmarks, we still haven’t managed to throw the devilish CTR% benchmark out of the window!

We need to stop looking at various industry benchmarks as a proxy for performance and focus on the job in hand – meeting our defined objectives. We need to set our own benchmarks and try to improve on them as we progress. Reporting tools like viewability help us get there, but are best used to refine the measurement we already have rather than being seen as the silver bullet.

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