Jag Duggal is currently the Senior Vice President of Product Management at Quantcast, a digital advertising company, specializing in audience measurement and real-time advertising. Duggal brings exceptional experience as the leader of the development and commercialization of one of Google’s most important display products.
In 2012, 1.8 trillion display ads were paid for but not seen. Even today, advertisers still pay for ads that are served but not necessarily viewed.
People wouldn’t stand for this in the offline world, so why is this so common online? Could you imagine, for example, an advertiser posting a billboard on a road with no cars? While this scenario sounds improbable, an analogous situation presents itself every day in the world of display advertising.
What this all comes down to is viewability, or whether an ad is in view when it appears on a page. According to the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a viewable impression is one where 50 percent or more of an ad loads onto a page and is present for at least one second.
Advertisers have long asked for viewability metrics, but early measurement attempts were inconsistent and inaccurate. One factor preventing complete measurability has been cross-domain iframes, which can restrict access to data required for calculating viewability.
However, progress toward viewability is already being made. The Media Rating Council (MRC) is converging upon viewability standards, and the IAB created SafeFrame technology to help overcome the challenges of cross-domain iframes.
In order to understand the state of viewability today, we ran experiments from August through October 2013 to test more than 100 million impressions across 35 campaigns and six advertising exchanges.
Our findings follow below:
1. Measurement at scale is now possible.
In our tests, viewability measurement rates among vendors varied by up to 30 percent for the same set of impressions. This, in turn, caused variances in reported viewability rates of up to 20 percent.
While no vendor can currently achieve 100 percent measurability, choosing an MRC-accredited vendor can ensure a high level of accuracy. By using MRC-accredited vendors, we were able to measure 90 percent of impressions served for viewability. Going back to the example of cars and billboards, this would be equivalent to being able to ask 9 out of 10 cars whether or not they saw the billboard.
2. Viewability impacts the entire advertising ecosystem.
Viewability involves an ecosystem of media vendors, publishers, and advertisers, and each has a unique role to play in moving advertising accountability forward.
Media vendors need to set realistic viewability goals with advertisers and provide solutions that increase viewability.
Publishers need to increase the amount of viewable inventory. In our tests, higher-viewability sites clear at CPMs up to two times above average, which suggests that advertisers are already incorporating viewability into their bids.
Advertisers will have their pick of media vendors that guarantee more viewable impressions and viewability measurement vendors that can better measure and report on viewability.
Advertisers can take several actions right now to begin making viewability a reality:
1. Demand leadership from media and viewability measurement vendors.
- Media vendors need to agree upon viewability goals, and be willing and able to guarantee viewability as a critical key performance indicator (KPI).
- Viewability measurement vendors need to be able to measure viewability with greater accuracy.
2. Work with vendors on viewability measurement.
Advertisers and media vendors should collaborate on achieving better viewability measurements. Regardless of which method you choose, you should hold all media vendors to the same standards.
- Viewability goals: Media vendors should agree to optimize the advertiser’s campaign toward a mutually acceptable viewability percentage.
- Viewability guarantees: Media vendors should guarantee a mutually acceptable viewability percentage. Both parties agree on guidelines for measurement and a method for resolving discrepancies.
- Viewable CPM (vCPM): Advertisers should only pay for viewable impressions on a CPM basis. As this is dependent on viewability measurement vendors providing accurate measurements for each impression served, this method may not be widely available until vendors increase their measurement rates.
3. Set realistic campaign goals.
Several factors can contribute to achieving greater than 75 percent viewability with real-time bidding (RTB) ads, including the limited amount of inventory at or above that level of viewability. Ad viewability also depends on user behavior. Users can be quick to scroll or click away, creating a natural limit to what viewability goals are achievable at scale. It is a good idea to work with media vendors to select viewability goals that suit each specific campaign.
4. Establish high standards for viewability measurement.
As a baseline, advertisers should work with MRC-accredited media vendors. When advertisers work only with accredited vendors, they push all vendors to meet the same standard in reporting.
The Future of Viewability
We’re now in a period of flux, where viewability and measurability levels vary, and where standards are being created, but have not yet been widely adopted or enforced. One thing is clear, however: viewability will have a significant long-term effect on digital ad efficacy and accountability for everyone involved in online advertising — media and measurement vendors, publishers, and advertisers alike.
Quantcast has recently released a white paper on viewability: The Road to Viewability: Entering a New Era of Accountability for Vendors, Publishers, and Advertisers. To download the white paper, click here.
 “Making Measurement Make Sense and the First of Five Solutions: The Shift to Viewable Impression.” measurementnow.net. Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS), n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.