Is It Worth Brands Pursuing 100% Viewability?

Ask any brand for its optimum viewability target and the chances are the answer will be 100%. This is an understandable goal, given viewability is a prerequisite for engagement – an impression has no opportunity to engage if it can’t be seen. Some premium publishers are already offering 100% viewability and IPA director general Paul Bainsfair has called on Facebook and Google to lead the way in delivering ad supply that is optimised for 100% viewability and independently verified. Is pursuing 100% viewability always the best option for brands, though? Here, writing exclusively for ExchangeWire, Nikki Hawke, CMO, The Exchange Lab, provides four reasons brand marketers might want to think twice before making this their ultimate goal.

Viewability standards are inconsistent  

Despite endless discussions on viewability, there is still no clear industry-wide consensus on what viewability really means. While viewability metrics are usually made up of two parts – percentage of pixels in view and time in view – definitions of viewable impressions vary greatly.

For instance, Facebook considers a viewable impression to be 50% in view for one second; Twitter states it should be 100%; and The IAB states it is either 50% or 30%, depending on the size of the ad unit.

The definition of viewability in video advertising is equally ambiguous. Certain standards require video ads to be in view for just two seconds, while others state that half the video must be completed. Given there is no standard for video ads, this could mean a user needs to watch an ad for 15-20 seconds before it is considered ‘viewed’. Additional factors are also at play, as individual standards may take into account whether the user starts the video or it autoplays, and whether the sound is on or off.

Facebook’s Ian Edwards suggests striving for a one-size-fits-all standard is ineffective. He argues that brands should be given a choice over viewability metrics, so they can select the standard most appropriate to them. Edwards believes shorter video views work well for direct-response advertisers who want cheaper impressions, but are insufficient for premium brands that are willing to pay more for longer time in-view.

Before investing in inventory that guarantees 100% viewability, brands need to understand the standards behind the promise. If the publisher’s definition of viewability doesn’t align with their own, they may find themselves paying over the odds for advertising that doesn’t meet their idea of 100% viewability. On the ad agency side, there are agencies out there that are happy to align standards for the brands they work on to ensure measurement is consistent across the board. However, this isn’t the case for all agencies, and if you’re a brand that works with more than one, and each uses different metrics, it’s going to cause a headache when it comes to comparing and contrasting overall campaign success.

Viewability can impact user experience

While 100% viewability sounds like a good idea in theory, consumers don’t always welcome the tactics used to achieve it. The most viewable ad formats are often the most annoying or intrusive, as illustrated by research from the Nielsen Norman Group. The survey revealed the three most hated ad formats on desktop are modal ads or pop-ups that appear on top of content and must be closed to access that content, video ads that start playing automatically, and intra-content ads that appear as the page loads and shift content down the screen.

The three ad formats mentioned above are all highly viewable, and use of these tactics would certainly bolster viewability scores, but would it enhance the consumer experience, boost brand image, and foster customer loyalty? Probably not. If a campaign is intrusive and annoying it won’t increase consumer engagement. On the flip side, it may well damage the brand’s reputation and lead to a rise in ad-blocking activity. Reaching consumer eyeballs is too often the single most important goal in a campaign, but creative must rate as highly.

It’s all about the creative

Ultimately, viewability is just a metric that indicates whether a consumer had the opportunity to view an ad or not – it does not guarantee engagement. It doesn’t matter how much a brand spends on viewable advertising, if ads are bland and uninspiring they won’t drive the required business outcomes. Equally, if a viewable ad is delivered to a consumer who has no interest in the product, placed in an irrelevant context, or served at a time when the user can’t engage with it, it will not perform.

Brands need to focus less on viewability metrics and more on creative execution, data-driven audience targeting, and contextual relevance, if they want ads to capture audience attention and make a real impact. Key to successful advertising is keeping the consumer front-of-mind at all times when planning a campaign. Advertisers have access to huge quantities of valuable customer data, which should be used to inform the creative, and fuel smarter, more targeted advertising. Data-driven creative coupled with programmatic buying that enables advertisers to test creative and then optimise in real-time is the perfect mix for delivering effective, engaging advertising.

The value of viewability has a tipping point

‘You get what you pay for’ is an adage that applies throughout the advertising industry, and advertisers who use programmatic with a view to achieving the lowest possible CPMs will inevitably experience low viewability. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that paying top dollar for 100% viewability will achieve the best results. Publishers that offer guaranteed viewability charge a high premium, and while higher viewability does correlate with increased conversions, there’s no certainty campaign performance will improve enough to justify the investment.

Brands need to find the intersection of viewability and performance – the cut-off point where incremental viewability does not deliver an enhanced ROI. The value of viewability is subjective and will vary according to campaigns goals, so for performance marketing and direct response campaigns this cut-off point is likely to be far lower than for brand marketing. Rather than doggedly pursuing 100% viewability, brands should benchmark their own advertising and decide what viewability targets work for each campaign.

No one disputes viewability is a vital metric; but that’s all it should be, a baseline metric and not the sole objective of an advertising campaign. Instead of relentlessly chasing 100% viewability, brands should determine the standards that work for their unique campaign goals. The focus needs to be on delivering great creative in non-intrusive formats, which is precision targeted to individuals, and reaches them at opportune moments. It’s only by placing the consumer on par with data at the forefront of a campaign, that brands can drive real business outcomes.