Optimizing for Viewability Won’t Fix Display


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If there were any doubts that ad viewability would be the hottest ad tech topic of 2015, they evaporated with recent announcements from Google, the IAB, and the American Association of Advertising Agencies.


On the heels of Google’s December announcement that 56% of ads served on the DoubleClick network aren’t viewable, the IAB’s state of viewability report claimed that viewability will not be ready for primetime in 2015 and “recommended that in this year of transition, Measured Impressions be held to a 70% viewability threshold.” The AAAA has responded that the IAB isn’t going far enough and that the immediate goal should be campaigns with 100% viewability.


The AAAA is right that standards to improve display aren’t moving fast enough, but they’re focused on the wrong standards. We shouldn’t be arguing about whether a 70% or 100% viewability standard is the right goal, we should be reevaluating the metric we’ve chosen in the first place.


All our estimates of viewability (including Google’s report) underestimate the real problem of viewable ads, and reaching 100% “in view” still won’t guarantee that all your ads can be viewed by a person. Why? Because viewability metric doesn’t account for nonhuman traffic.


The Problem Is Bigger Than It Looks


In order for an ad to be considered in-view, 50% of its pixels must be on the page, in view for one second. For video, the standard is two seconds. This means that an ad on the bottom of a page, for example, will not ever be in view if a user doesn’t scroll down. However, if a bot visits a site, mimicking the behavior of a human, and loads a page, the ad will be counted as in view.


From a marketer’s perspective, an ad that’s “viewed” by a nonhuman isn’t viewed. It’s clearly a wasted impression. Yet per the industry-accepted definition, an ad that was on the page, even if served to a nonhuman, is considered viewable.


While Google’s 56% number is staggering, it doesn’t address ad fraud, and therefore doesn’t represent the full scope of the problem. All of our measures of viewability underestimate the real number of ads that aren’t viewed, perhaps dramatically.




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Why Viewability Is Bad for Marketers


According to one end of year survey, viewability far surpassed bot fraud as the most pressing issue on marketers’ minds for 2015. A key contributor to that shift have been the introduction of standard viewability measurements and reports like Google’s (which, not coincidentally, preceded an announcement about new ad products that include viewability reporting).


The clear extension of this measurement is a distinction between sites and networks with high levels of viewability, which marketers are likely to pay a premium for. In theory, marketers would (and should) be willing to pay more for impressions that are served to a human, but here’s the rub: impressions that are measurably in view still aren’t necessarily viewed by a human. With larger adoption of the industry standard, marketers will be paying a premium to optimize for ads that are in view, but may or may not be viewed by a human.


Shifting Focus


Unlike viewability, estimates for ad fraud are harder to quantify across networks. In 2014, Mercedes ran a digital campaign and found that 57% of the traffic was non-human, which means more than half of the ads served never had the opportunity to be viewed by a human, whatever their placement on the page.


Paying a premium for a “viewable” ad that’s served to a bot just doesn’t make sense, and it’s the obvious extension of where we’re headed today. Instead of pushing forward with viewability, marketers should be looking to verify that traffic is human. It doesn’t matter if the ad is in view if there isn’t a potential customer on the other side of the screen.


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In view measurement will be important, and assuming ads are being delivered to humans, it does make sense to pay a premium for viewable ads. Unfortunately, our current viewability metrics don’t meet that standard, and until they do, marketers shouldn’t consider paying a premium for a solution that doesn’t solve their waste problem..



Reid Tatoris, Co-Founder, Are You A Human

Reid Tatoris is the co-founder of Are You a Human, curators of the Verified Human Whitelist. Reid holds an MBA and Engineering degree from The University of Michigan, and currently lives in Detroit where he is excited to be a part of the new Detroit story.