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Beyond Viewability: The Hygiene Factor the Ad Industry Just Can’t Shake

Every marketing campaign needs to deliver impact. Regardless of whether it’s entirely OOH or mobile-only, a marketing campaign without measurable impact is of little value. But deciding what constitutes ‘impact’ is a topic of ongoing debate, particularly in the complex and nuanced digital world, as explains Alex Timbs, head of data and attribution, Oath, writing exclusively for ExchangeWire.

Brands and agencies have long debated what metrics should be counted when it comes to assessing a campaign’s performance. After years of post-recession budget squeezes – during which marketing departments have had to justify every single marketing dollar – the pressure has let off slightly, but the need to demonstrate ROI persists.

As our industry has worked its way through a number of different metrics to serve as the ‘catch-all’ success yardstick for online campaigns, viewability has come to the fore. And now it is a metric that’s gone way above its station.

Even with a low industry standard of 50% viewability for a digital ad, a great deal of inventory across the landscape struggles to hit this. And, if the majority of ads that do tick this box are only just qualifying, then we can’t rely on viewability as an effective measure of campaign performance. While the industry shouldn’t use viewability as a crutch, any company that sales ads has a responsibility to their clients to work with external vendors to improve viewability, given it remains a metric upon which so many brands rely.

The best place to start when monitoring performance and overall effectiveness of a campaign is with the overall business objectives – what is it that you’re trying to achieve? Basing KPIs on these goals at the start will ultimately help any campaign deliver true ROI.

For some campaigns, we may include viewability in this list, but for others the click-through rate may be more important. Once objectives have been set, it’s vital that marketers understand how each KPI is used, and what it shows. Using only viewability, for example, misses out on subtleties in feedback such as why and how people are engaging with digital ads, instead simply focusing on how many people have seen it.

However, that’s not to say that viewability doesn’t have a place in today’s digital ecosystem, or that we don’t need minimum standards to be agreed across the industry. Even if viewability isn’t the ultimate gauge of a campaign’s performance, it is an important element that needs to be considered and so persistence in agreeing a quality standard is critical.

On the other hand, brands that only look at sales figures will be unclear where they are attributed to and whether the ad campaign resonated. These metrics fail to represent brand awareness, or how a consumer’s perception has changed, or whether people have spent time viewing content – something viewability and qualitative feedback can provide insight on. That’s why technology platforms are using algorithms to dig deeper (and learn) why and how people are engaging with digital content.

As we move beyond viewability or attributing success to one specific touchpoint, use of Multi Touch Attribution (MTA) and Marketing Mix Modelling (MMM) models are expanding. A recent poll by the IAB and the Winterberry Group found almost 60% of marketing and media practitioners expect to be engaged in cross-channel measurement and attribution this year. Having an holistic view of what elements of an overall campaign worked, and to what degree, is not only valuable but critical in informing future campaigns.

We’re now at a point where you can bring all activity back to ROI and performance, whatever your objectives are. And when we say this, we’re not just talking about performance in the binary sense of ‘did it work or not’. The data we collect and the analysis we run allows us to complete the marketing campaign cycle and connect everything together.

Not one measurement works in isolation, nor does one measurement apply to every brand and their success. That means starting with business objectives versus campaign objectives. Viewability is the ‘hygiene’ measurement that will contribute to performance, but it won’t tell you exactly how successful your digital ads were and the industry needs to stop relying on it as if it will.

Effective performance measurement needs to consider the bigger picture – ultimately if the creative is poor or targeted ineffectively, then no amount of people seeing your ad will help you.