IAB raises standard to battle ad viewability issues

Perhaps the most widely quoted aphorism in the history of advertising is the one attributed to both Lord Leverhulme and John Wanamaker, that “half of my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” This pre-digital view of was supposed to have been brought to an end, at least online, by the measurability of digital media. But recent research has brought it up to date in dramatic fashion.

Estimates vary but a commonly accepted figure is that around half of ad spend is wasted on adverts that are not viewed. This is not just because they don’t catch the web user’s eye but because they are usually placed below the fold at the bottom of the screen and so are only seen if the consumer scrolls down.

Half sounds like an alarmist figure but it wasn’t the finding of a vendor keen to selling a tracking tool. It was actually announced by comScore recently after they researched thousands of campaigns from 2013 and found that 54% of adverts were unviewable. This was a significant leap up from the year before, 2012, when nearly a third of adverts were unviewable.

It’s a startling fact and accounts for the Media Ratings Council, working with the IAB and other media partners in the USA, producing a metric for viewability last month. Now, to be considered viewable at least half an advert has to be displayed for a least a second.

Rubber stamping

An announcement repeating the standard in the UK was made subsequently, Steve Chester, Director of Data and Industry Programmes at the IAB in the UK, reveals.

“The IAB has been working to establish what the majority of people accept is a fair measure of viewability and the 50% for a second metric is commonly accepted, so we’ve made that our standard,” he said.

“Advertisers can obviously go and buy campaigns based on an advert being viewable for as many seconds as they like but we’ve set a standard that can be used across the industry."


The challenge has been there are many different people using different tools to measure what is considered viewable and so advertisers have been dealing with people who compare proverbial apples with oranges. So, it’s a simple standard that people can now accept and use as a standard metric.”

Video was not part of the announcement because, as Chester admits, it’s very complicated.

“We’re working with industry partners on video and we don’t expect to have a standard announced for months,” he said.

“It’s obviously a lot more complex than a standard advert because there are all kinds of issues to deal with. Should you only count video adverts as being viewable if the end-user has initiated the video? If so, how long should a view be? Does that mean you don’t count adverts which play automatically and discount any that appear to be viewed but actually the person’s navigated to another page in another browser window and so hasn’t see the video, but they might have heard part of it.”

CPM inflation?

The headache of video is put off for a few months, but the big issue on everyone’s minds now is will display prices now go up? While the IAB has no official line here, Chester thinks it’s a possibility.

“We’ll have to see what happens to prices, it’s quite possible CPMs will increase,” he said.
“However you’d have to weigh that up against the improvement in quality. You may have previously paid less but then half might not have been viewable. If there’s a small increase, at least you know you’re paying for spots that have actually been viewable.”

Stake in the sand

Among the advertising fraternity it is probably fair to say that the MRC announcement has been welcomed. The general view, according to Andrew Goode, COO at ad-checking provider, Project Sunblock, is that it effectively recognises what is happening anyway and so will not have a huge impact.

“They had to put a stake in the sand somewhere and it made sense to go for the widely accepted 50% for a second metric,” he said.

“I think advertising will still be bought on a ‘served’ basis, though. There’s quite a way to go until ‘viewable’ becomes the basic metric but at least now the industry has a standard. It will give people more power when they use a reporting tool to then feed back to a publisher or a network that sites are not delivering viewable adverts. They can then come to a decision over what they should be billed for and which publishers and networks they want to work with again in the future.”

So, what has been announced was pretty much the industry norm. Now, though, it’s been rubber-stamped and advertisers have a legitimate metric they can go back to publishers and networks with to ensure they get value for money.

Next up, though, is video and that is bound to be a lot less straight forward as the IAB takes a tin opener to a very lively can of worms.

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