When it comes to ad viewability, it seems like the only debate is which publisher, ad network, client, agency, media planner, or SSP thinks it's the most swell. Seems pretty obvious to me that if an ad falls in the forest and no one is around to see it, does it deserve any value? I completely agree that ad viewability is super important, absolutely needed, and will eventually help raise CPMs for the publishers that deserve them. But in the short run, it will hurt revenue for those same publishers.
If viewable impressions are absolutely what we need, yet they run the real possibility of hurting publishers' already tenuous revenue streams, what can we collectively do about it to bridge the gap? The solution is how we construct the holistic environment that welcomes better and more focused advertising in alignment with the content, context, and the reader. It also has to be scalable and programmatic for it to mean much in the scheme of things.
There are four macro issues that need addressing when it comes to the viewability of online advertising:
Industry inertia around simplistic attribution models
It's pretty well understood that most attribution models are relatively simple. CTR is an easy one to pick on, as is the notion of last cookie. Both are far too blunt to measure the overall efficacy of an ad. But, the inertia in the market keeps these models plodding along. Moves to more sophisticated models that can measure cross-media and consistently cross-channel are needed to break the logjam. Until this changes, the last guy in the pool continues to take credit for the conversion and motivates cheap, below-the-fold, ad placements.
Inconsistency of implementation
There are plenty of gaps still in the one true version of the viewable truth. Proper implementation is still the domain of a few vendors and ad servers. It's not as straightforward as checking the server logs to get everyone on the same page that the ad was indeed requested. There has to be an industry-embraced standard means for measurement that is easy and no-cost for all publishers to implement, inspect, and report consistently.
Pressure to eek every ounce of revenue from page RPMs
Publishers appear to bear most of the culpability on this one, but I think it runs slightly deeper than that. In an effort to keep the lights on, publishers are tempted to add that extra medium rectangle to the page, maybe more. The page gets loaded once, but more ads equal more impressions; more impressions equal more money. It's dumb, I get it, but that doesn't stop people from doing it. The solution here is to streamline and shorten the pages, make them punchier and more impactful, and place more relevant advertising to the context and to the reader. Less should be more, but this again requires publishers to take a deep breath and a likely short-term hit to revenue.
Lack of the silver bullet
The above points bring me to this final one: There is no silver bullet. Viewable, in-view, viewablity, or viewed impressions alone won't solve the brand advertiser problem -- necessary but not sufficient. The path to effective brand ads is of course to make sure people see them, but it doesn't just stop there. The right approach takes the right people (sophisticated audience targeting) aligned with engaging content (page-level segmentation and scoring) in an appropriate context (impactful placements). All this takes a holistic approach from the publisher. It also has to be supported from the marketer with willingness to spend for quality.
The golden rule wins every time. Those that have the gold (marketers) dictate in large part what occurs. Publishers behave predictably, and they are best at what they do in their native environment: create and curate great content to engage an audience. When they get commoditized, they naturally react by taking short-run moves to release the pressure and survive. We should use the viewable impression discussion to re-elevate the conversation and get the power and potential of online marketing back on the right track.
Walter Knapp is EVP of platform revenue at Federated Media Publishing.
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