Debunking Viewability Myths As Display Moves Toward This New Metric


Once your brand strategy is in place, there is nothing more critical and basic than making sure that potential customers see your ads. This is why the viewability debate has created such a furor among marketers, agencies, and the industry as a whole.

There has been a massive increase in display advertising over the past few years — and if you include display ads on tablets and smartphones, growth is likely to continue unabated. What is driving this growth? Data and real-time exchanges.

Data and real-time bidding launched search and turned Google into today’s industry leader. Back then (circa 2000-2003), click fraud was rampant and was the scourge of the industry. That’s been cleaned up to the point where click fraud represents only a small fraction of all clicks today (note: it has not gone away).

Ten years later, that’s where we are in display. It’s not, “Can we fix it?,” but, “When will we fix it?” It’s important to note that display is not broken — it’s just grown so quickly that some bad actors have stepped in while they can. This will never be cured, but instead reduced to a manageable “discrepancy.”


While we work to develop a new viewable impression metric, let’s debunk some myths at the center of the viewability debate. (A recent article shares insights on the future expectations of viewability and current dependencies.)

Myth #1: 2014 will be the year viewability becomes the standard for brand-focused display advertising.

We are making improvements to the way we deliver ads every day. At Magnetic, we know more than we knew a year ago, and we will know more in a year than we know today. However, if we compare our viewability problem to viruses, then we know it’ll never go away. We’ll just be able to keep it down to a small enough percentage that it can be priced into campaigns, and we’ll stop worrying about it. It won’t all happen at once, but it’ll happen.

Myth #2: Standards are “pretty much” agreed upon.

Last time I checked, there was no standard viewable impression. And I’m sure Spock would add that if there is no standard, then the standard hasn’t been agreed upon. It’s quite possible that there will never be a standard, and this shouldn’t scare anyone. It doesn’t mean we won’t have similar tactics or that we won’t fix the problem: everyone will surely get better. Simply put, if there was a “standard,” then it’s likely a hacker would find a way to hack it. So it’s more like an arms race.

Myth #3: Viewability metrics “depend” on Google.

There is some truth to this, because there are some “choke points” where all impressions are seen. If they are detected and categorized – with some being rejected or labeled to indicate that they are below the fold – then that would indeed be helpful. Some of the choke points are:

  • The Browser: Google/Chrome can help here, but I doubt that the browser will be the place where viewability measurement will take place for a combination of privacy, security and competitive reasons (Google + MSFT + Mozilla + Apple won’t play well together.)
  • The Ad Server: If Google installed a viewability measure in its ad server (DoubleClick), it would do the world a service. Of course there are other ad servers, but Google owns the largest. Others would have to have their own metrics in place because these players are not going to share their secrets with one another.
  • The Ad Exchange or SSP (Supply Side Provider): Most outright fraud is perpetrated through these players, not through sites who sell their ads directly to advertisers. Google has AdX, so they can be very helpful here. But again, competition says that others will have their own standards.

Myth #4: It won’t take much to urge publishers to make the adjustments to pricing and technology specs needed to make viewability work.

If you look at the choke points above, you’ll see that publishers aren’t actually one of them. People who sell them services are (e.g., SSPs, AdServers, etc.). Major publishers already bought into only selling viewable impressions.

And I’d argue that pricing is already baked into viewability – it’s one of the reasons that RTB impressions are so much cheaper than impressions bought directly from publishers. While there are other reasons for the price disparity such as remnant, desirability/control of ad placement, and sequence of ad in a session, viewability is also worked into the pricing.

That last point is important. In other words, if the only reason you are purchasing ads is to drive conversions/sales (for a performance campaign, not true of all ad campaigns), then you will know how much you are prepared to pay based on how many more items you sell for each impression you buy. Once you reach the point of inflection where each incremental ad dollar produces less than a dollar of profit, you cut back. Impressions that aren’t seen do not contribute to sales, and these are priced into your deal.

For “branding” campaigns, broadly defined as any campaign that doesn’t have a hard ROI metric, viewability is baked into these prices, too. This means that the biggest winner to solving this equation will be publishers, because when we can effectively remove ads that aren’t seen from 90+% of a campaign, pricing will go up. Because contrary to popular belief, good ad inventory is not infinite.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

James Green is chief executive officer at Magnetic, a technology company with a marketing platform for enterprises, brands and agencies. James is charged with driving the company’s strategic vision and overall expansion.



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