7 Principles For Making The Viewable Impression Work
Contributor Peter Minnium of the IAB recaps recent controversy over viewable impressions and lays out his rationale for a realistic way forward.
Marketers, agencies and publishers have been hard at work since 2011 to establish a measurement framework for digital that allows for cross-media comparability. This has been a sore point for digital media because marketers and agencies have been unable to use the enormously rich data available in digital in ways that allow for the free flow of dollars across media.
The Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative was birthed by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) (my employer) to address this need, among others. Its first goal was to move from a served impression measure to a viewable impression one.
As with all things digital, this conceptually simple task proved devilishly complex. The ecosystem enlisted not only Bain Consulting at the start, but subsequently, none other than the reigning experts in media measurement, the Media Rating Council (MRC), to tackle the challenge. And tackle it they did, finally putting in market definitive guidance in mid-2014.
Then things became wobbly.
The collaboration and consensus that had united marketers, agencies and publishers for the past three years was put at risk of breaking down as some parties jockeyed for perceived advantage.
In any transition, especially one this large, buyers and sellers must work together to map out the issues and draw up practical plans to address them. This requires give-and-take and compromises by both sides with an eye on the end goal. In most cases, these negotiations occur behind the scenes and certainly out of the press. While the vast majority of players followed this time-worn, effective path, some on the agency and marketer side went very public with unrealistic, absolute demands.
(Editor’s note: Specifically, Group M and Unilever called for standards that guaranteed:
- that ad players are 100% in view on websites where they are being shown
- that at least 50% of the video must be played when in view
- that the video player’s sound must be turned on throughout viewing
- that the user must press “play” instead of it being an auto-start)
In response, the IAB issued a position paper, State of Viewability Transaction 2015, with the stated goal of bringing the industry discussion back into balance. Core to this paper are the following seven recommended principles, with which I largely agree.
1. “All billing should continue to be based on the number of Served Impressions during a campaign, and these should be separated into two categories: Measured and Non-Measured.”
This is a simple concept that captures an important piece of MRC guidance. It is meant to state clearly that non-measured impressions should be excluded from being subjected to any viewability consideration. This makes sense, of course, because if a vendor cannot “see” the impression well enough to measure it, there is simply no way to judge viewability with any degree of accuracy.
While a simple concept in theory, there is some confusion in the market, with a handful of buyers suggesting that Non-Measured is somehow not viewable. This is 100% incorrect. Specific MRC guidance on this issue came in the organization’s October 16th viewability implementation considerations update: “non-measured impressions should not be counted as non-viewable.”
Another dangerous practice is trying to extrapolate the viewability rate from measured impressions to the non-measured pool. By definition, these two pools of impressions are likely to be quite different; if they weren’t, they would all be measurable.
All are aware that having high levels of non-measured impressions is not ideal, and for this reason, MRC states that the “the Measured Rate is critical” and advises all to “select a viewable impression vendor with higher Measured Rates.”
2. “Given the limitations of current technology and publishers’ observed variances in measurement by as much as 30–40%, it is realistic to expect that measured impressions will achieve at least a 70% viewability threshold level.”
The 70% number ties back to the wide variances that publishers report seeing among the top verification vendors. For 2015, the first full year of viewable measurement, publishers feel that it is fair to accept a variance of 30% (“variance of 30%” = “70% threshold”). This simply means that if the measured media viewability rate falls between 70–100%, the campaign is billed at the served impression count.
It is expected that the verification technology will improve over the next 12 months, and the aspiration is that the variance will be reduced to an industry norm of less than 10% sometime after that.
This is not the case in 2015, however. Again, the MRC makes this clear, specifically in its October 16, 2014 release: “It is unreasonable for advertisers, agencies, and publishers implementing viewable impressions as measurement currency to expect to observe viewable rates of 100%.”
Surprisingly, there is some confusion in the market over what this 70% refers to. To be clear, 70% denotes the number of measured impressions, i.e., seven or more out of every ten measured impressions should be viewable. This does not refer to the percentage of pixels of an individual ad that is in view; that definition has been fixed by the MRC at 50% for standard display and video and 30% for large-format display — and is immutable.
3. “If a campaign does not achieve the 70% threshold, publishers will make-good with additional Viewable Impressions until the threshold is met. This ensures that all paid measurable ad impressions will be viewable at a threshold that both exceeds the minimum standard and falls within observed variances.”
This is straightforward and reflects well-established practice on making-good inventory.
4. “All make-goods should be in the form of additional Viewable Impressions, not cash, and should be delivered in a reasonable time frame. Make-good impressions should be both viewable and generally consistent with inventory that was purchased in the original campaign. Determination of threshold achievement is based on total campaign impressions, not by each line item.”
As with all make-goods, the key consideration is fulfillment of client objectives, and so this will continue to be the paramount driver when choosing inventory.
5. “For large-format ads, defined as 242,500 pixels or more, a viewable impression is counted if 30% of the pixels of the ad are viewable for a minimum of one continuous second.”
This notion is taken directly from the MRC guidance, which the IAB chose to stand even more firmly behind as a core principle.
As the creator of the IAB Rising Stars, this is near and dear to my heart, not only because it sets an appropriate bar for larger ad formats, but also because it establishes the principle of special measurement cases. This latter consideration is critical to allow for the type of continued ad product innovation (e.g., with native, sponsored content, and in-stream ads) that is necessary to meet marketer needs and propel the industry forward.
6. “All transactions should use MRC-accredited vendors only.”
One would hope that this principle is accepted by all, as it was the ANA, 4A’s and IAB which collectively represent the entire ecosystem and jointly chose the MRC. MRC certification and accreditation is the gold standard in the industry.
7. “Buyer and seller should agree on a single measurement vendor ahead of time to avoid costly, labor-intensive, and error-prone manual processes of reconciliation.”
This is important for economic reasons, as it decreases cost and increases funds available for working media. In addition, there is a strategic benefit, as both sides of a transaction can use the same data to optimize effectiveness, which is far better than using conflicting data to argue for pure financial advantage.
The industry is on the road to achieving a remarkable transformation and even greater accountability in digital media. With the goal of achieving 100% viewability as soon as technically and commercially feasible, smart marketers, agencies and publishers are working collaboratively to deploy, learn and continually improve viewability measurement systems that drive what really matters — an increased return on advertising investments.