‘Viewable Ads’ and Brand Dollars: We’ve Seen This Movie Before

This article originally appeared in AdExchangerhttp://www.adexchanger.com/data-driven-thinking/viewable-ads-brand-dollars/

Ever since my March column addressing viewable impressions, I’ve been tagged as “that anti-viewable impressions guy.” This misses the point. I’m not against viewable impressions. That’s like being against vegetables – they’re probably good for you. What I am against is the idea that if we can just move the standard to viewable impressions, we’ll unlock the flood of brand advertising dollars that are too afraid to move to online.  Thing is, we’ve seen this movie at least twice before.

Here’s what I mean:

Back in the mid to late ’90s, some advertisers started to realize that many impressions and clicks were being created by robots and spiders deployed by huge companies like Excite, Infoseek and Lycos. Industry experts predicted that if we could just make sure every impression was seen by a human, we’d get those brand dollars. Publishers worried that their impression counts and revenues would drop precipitously. With time and effort the industry adopted some standards that mostly solved the problem, but it didn’t unleash the flood of ad dollars.

Then in the early 2000’s, third-party ad servers really started to take off, and discrepancies began to arise. Advertisers started to insist on paying according to their numbers, not the publisher’s counts.  Again, industry experts predicted that using advertiser numbers would unleash brand dollars.  Again, publishers agonized over losing impressions and revenue. Now, the majority of premium ad buys are paid on third-party ad server numbers, and the money flood hasn’t materialized.

Here we are again.  Everyone knows measuring viewability — despite its obvious flaws — is better than just measuring delivery. Industry groups are pushing for it, because it wins elections as a small but marketable success. Publishers are dragging their feet because of the cost to deploy, and potential impact on revenue. Digital agencies see it as a bright shiny object they can use to prove they “get” digital to their clients. For companies in the space, it’s essential to support it – allowing clients to forecast viewability. But in the end, it won’t solve the real problems of brand advertisers online, so it’s more of a distraction than a panacea.

As I stated before, the real challenges we need to solve are laid out in the other four principles of Making Measurement Make Sense: rationalizing measurement across media, understanding online’s contribution to brand building, and generally making it easier to spend big budgets online and get ROI that makes sense. Let’s focus our efforts on these challenges, so we can grow the market to $200 billion for everyone.

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