4 predictions for how viewability standards will change digital media buying

Crazy as it sounds, marketers want to know that their advertising investment is paying off. Online impressions have been bought and measured, but in reality, an impression only meant that an ad was served, not viewed. Enter the viewable impression.

Viewable impressions, or display ads that are guaranteed to have the ability to be viewed by an actual person, can help create transparency in display impression valuations. However, buying viewable impressions has been a challenge. Many measurement, ad tech and media firms claimed to have developed a solution for guaranteeing an impression’s viewability. Not surprisingly, these competing solutions created a significant headache for media buyers and advertisers. Thankfully, the industry responded and recently, the Media Ratings Council (MRC) stepped in to establish standards for viewable impressions for both display and online video ads (see details below). With the new viewability standards in place, we predict that digital media buying will experience the following changes:

1.      CPM-driven advertisers should expect growing pains

The transition phase includes not only system updates for buying and measurement systems, but also a time when viewable impression inventory will garner a premium CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) over non-viewable impressions. If advertisers are already buying media based on the return-on-investment or return-on-ad-spend, and not the CPM, the transition will be much easier. If advertisers cling to lowest CPMs only, they will have to reset performance/price expectations, as CPMs for guaranteed viewable inventory are expected to rise as supply and demand take effect.

2.       The return on an advertiser’s media spend will increase

The volume of impressions that are actually making a difference to the bottom line (viewable impressions) will remain the same. Advertisers must realize that although they may end up paying a higher CPM for guaranteed viewable inventory, their return on media spend should improve. They will now realize a greater response on the back end since the previously useless (non-viewable) impressions are no longer part of the campaign equation.

3.      True ROI measurement will become the norm for media performance

It’s time for the industry to abandon the click through rate as a metric for campaign performance. Clickers are not buyers and CTR can distract from optimizations focused on real revenue impact. While cost per action (CPA) is more reflective of performance, savvier advertisers are focused on total return on investment by tying ad exposure data back to on- and off-line sales. The next evolution is to go beyond one channel or one campaign and give each impression appropriate weighting in attribution analysis. The cross-industry initiative that drove this standard is titled “Making Measurement Make Sense” (3MS) after all. Implementing the standard for viewability allows for an equivalent gross rating point (GRP) model to compare online and offline media sources matching ”opportunity to see” and enabling a true measure of media performance.

4.       Programmatic buying becomes more intelligent

The new standards get us one step closer to a marketplace where all marketing channels are equally accessible, which is one step closer to the dream of true programmatic buying. Eventually the silos of channel execution and measurement will be removed and advertisers can really get down to business delivering the right message to the right user at the right time and in the right channel.

The details on new viewable impression standards

In March, the MRC lifted the advisory on using “viewable impressions” as a currency for buying, selling and measuring brand advertising in the digital display marketplace. As there were many vendors with varying viewability requirements, the advisory was put in place in 2012 to allow time for the industry to investigate and agree to a new standard. With these standards now in-place, vendors can guarantee ads based on how long an ad has to appear on the page, when that clock should begin and how many pixels need to be in frame. Essentially the MRC standards make one viewable impression equal another, even when served on different properties, and using different vendors for verification.

The MRC has also created an accreditation process for viewability vendors to determine whether or not they meet these standards. For example, just this week, Yahoo! announced Prime View, a viewability product that guarantees viewed-ads based on these MRC standards and is MRC accredited.

On Monday, June 30, the MRC lifted the advisory for online video. Video is a different animal with complex factors, and a different cast of characters regarding viewability vendors. For online advertisers, this means that we’ll have new standards for guaranteeing an online video ad was viewed including, how many seconds must it play, whether the sound needs to be on and if the tab showing video is the open tab at that time.

The new standards will encourage more parity when understanding digital display — the fastest growing advertising channel. As long as digital marketers have been seeking out quality inventory to drive a positive ROI for brands, this is a win for the entire industry!

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