Currently, a viewable desktop ad is one where 50 percent of the pixels of the ad are visible for one second and 30 percent of the pixels of video ads are visible for one second. Since the release of the first set of guidelines by the Media Ratings Council (MRC) in June 2014, there have been several amendments taking mobile ads into account. The most recent guidelines, which are only interim ones, were released in May 2015 and include updates such as Rendered Served Ad Impressions – a note on measurement of multi-ad units – and a note on measurement when multiple measurement tags are present. In light of these new announcements and ambiguous standards of mobile viewability, Communicate catches up with regional experts to learn their view on the subject, including, Amer Attyeh, MENA country head, Exponential; Ryan Murdoch, head of data and analytics, Starcom Mediavest Group MENA; Rebecca Akl, director of digital exchange, Mindshare UAE; and Daniel Vaczi, head of digital, MediaCom.
What do you make of the current standards – are they good enough for clients or could they be potentially misleading?
The current standard is far from being enough, but it is a big step toward the development of digital measurement and an upgrade from the served-impressions model, where there is no guarantee of viewability. The guidelines are still very lenient, but they will become firmer as the implementation of viewability as a measurement and trading unit progresses. In the process, the definition of viewability will evolve to take into consideration different screens, channels and formats. Until the standards reach an advanced stage, everyone should be informed about the current limitations of viewability to avoid over-promising on deliverables, followed by frustrations caused by inaccuracy or under-delivery – Akl
Fifty percent of pixels for one second might not satisfy everyone, but it’s a good starting point toward establishing standards in this highly complex ecosystem where there are multiple technologies on both the publisher’s and advertiser’s ends. Multiple measurement methodologies also exist on the viewability side and this is a good first step, which will only lead to improved ad delivery and stronger advertiser trust. In terms of accidental clicks, I doubt it’s a big threat on desktops. It’s more of a [challenge on] mobile and tablet, where accidental taps – the so-called ‘fat finger’ clicks – are a big problem. In the mobile space, there are companies that have already started developing new ad formats that the user can engage with by swiping instead of tapping. This will eliminate the majority of accidental mobile clicks – Vaczi
Clicks do not impact viewability, so good viewability statistics will not be skewed due to accidental clicks. The current standard is geared toward bringing some accountability into media buys and to ensure ads served by publishers have the opportunity to be seen. Contrary to the desires of some industry players, the original aim was to make absolutely sure that users are not forced to see an ad. There is a whole host of entirely fair reasons that an ad might not be viewable, such as a user navigating away from a page, over which the publisher has little control. The aim now is to create incentives for publishers to design better websites with more valuable ad slots that users can see, instead of having ad slots in locations where users will never see them. This definition achieves the aim of helping foster a more accountable and a better-value digital ad ecosystem for all parties – Attyeh
The current standards are global IAB standards that we agree with. The premise of this standard is that the ad has had a possibility of being seen by a consumer – it’s not a question of whether or not the consumer has actually seen the ad. Our analysis shows that, in some cases, ads are only shown below the fold. The goal is to understand the volume of impressions that are viewable on screen as a percentage of the total number of impressions placed by each publisher – Murdoch
Since different publishers – especially the big giants like Facebook and YouTube – have different formats, would a standard viewability guide across publishers and formats work?
Viewability is simply [a tool] to understand whether or not the consumer had a chance to see the ad. Therefore, the need for a standardized global methodology is key to clearly defining viewability – regardless of the publisher. However, the measurement of interactions, view-through rates and skippability, among other forms of engagement rates, is specific to the platforms and ad units that the publishers use – Murdoch
Fundamentally, the 3MS (Making Measurement Make Sense) standard exists to bring minimum standards into the industry and offers ads the opportunity to be seen. Publishers like Facebook have put up a fight against some of these standards, only to rescind some of their objections to third-party measurement on industry standards. YouTube’s TrueView ads or Facebook’s video ads still operate like in-stream units, albeit in a different environment to most in-stream units. The IAB standards are sufficiently general for us to apply the same measurement rules across publishers, which will also allow agencies and advertisers to compare these metrics across publishers – Attyeh
YouTube and Facebook block third-party viewability tools, so measuring and validating what they report on is a challenge. Right now, we have to go with 91 percent viewability on YouTube and 100 percent viewability on Facebook – it’s hard to believe, but that’s what we have for now. In terms of ad formats being different, native ads are different across the web, so if we have different guides for different publishers, then we should have the same for all other native platforms, which is not feasible. There needs to be a standard universal guide that everyone adheres to – Vaczi
Platforms like Facebook and YouTube have defined their own viewability standards and are using their own software to measure the rates. Marketers are not very happy with this model, as they prefer the reports to be provided by third-party viewability vendors and the big players are being receptive to marketers’ demands. Although Facebook offers native formats that are thought to be, by nature, more viewable – especially when served on mobile – there are talks that the social network is looking into introducing a new buying model at a premium price, where brands will pay only when 100 percent of the ad is viewed on the user’s browser. YouTube’s TrueView format guarantees viewed impressions to a large degree, given the placement of the ad and the nature of the platform. Viewability guidelines will [have to] expand and adapt to the nature of various digital channels and formats – Akl
Considering the MRC’s viewability guidelines for mobile are still underway, how does it currently work on mobile?
The biggest concerns with mobile are centered on the technological challenges that exist in the environment. We’ve seen the MRC try and tackle the issue this year by introducing some standards and defining an additional metric for in-app inventory: the “loaded ad”, which addresses the technology concerns around in-app viewability measurement. If we are to continue looking at viewability in the spirit it was intended – that an ad should have the opportunity to be seen – then a minimum requirement like the one already laid out by the MRC might not be such a bad idea – Attyeh
When buying true mobile through in-app or mobile web pages, we always will expect the ad to be visible within the screen parameters for the duration of the unit. Outside of this, for desktop site browsing on mobile devices, the standard methodology applies – Murdoch
Given the concerns – and attention – surrounding viewability so far, does it warrant the singular attention, or should advertisers and clients be focusing on other metrics?
Any standard methodology is a good starting point for the industry. The question that needs to be asked is: now that we have the ability to measure viewability, among other factors, how are we applying the learnings from a client, agency and publisher perspective to ensure the desired quality? – Murdoch
Viewability is a very valid measure for awareness-based campaigns, especially since it allows comparability with other media and makes cross-platform media measurement easier. However, the current definition of viewability is not ideal. The ideal – and hopefully improved – scenario would involve 100 percent of the pixels of an ad being viewable in order for the ad to be considered as a viewed ad and have a 100 percent viewability threshold. In all cases, viewability’s impact on a brand’s ROI will only be significant when creative adapts to this new digital media currency. Publishers and vendors can work toward enhancing the delivery and the measurement of the campaign, and therefore contribute to the uplift in brand exposure. However, if the creative is not appealing enough to retain the users beyond one or two seconds or stimulate them to take action, then no [number of] viewed impressions will actually help the brand – Akl
Viewability is just one measure we look at and it’s especially important for branding campaigns where clicks, click-through rates and actions in general are less of a focus. However, when it comes to direct response campaigns, we don’t look at viewability as a key performance indicator. Instead, we look at the conversion rate and ROI, among other metrics. If we included viewability as a key optimization metric for performance campaigns, we could potentially exclude quality inventory where the viewability tool fails or it can’t monitor viewability properly, such as content set within iframes – Vaczi
As with most metrics, focusing exclusively on one without referencing the others can lead to counter-intuitive conclusions. For performance campaigns, focusing on viewability can sometimes be detrimental to other hard, revenue-based metrics – if an agency or advertiser has not thought through its attribution models properly. On the sell side, we’re often faced with clients who want us to optimize campaigns [according] to viewability [standards] and cost-per-action (CPA) goals, and are surprised to see that, sometimes, as viewability goes down, CPAs improve. Similarly, for branding campaigns, viewability should be treated as one of a range of metrics that can help advertisers value their media investments. Simply put, looking at viewability in context with other metrics for campaigns allows an advertiser to make sensible partner selection decisions using robust data points – Attyeh