Advertisers want to ensure that their ads are seen by humans, but most ads that are measured as viewable barely reach the industry’s minimum benchmarks.
Although viewability rates are rising, 57 percent of display ads were in view for just one second last month, according to data from Integral Ad Science. IAS also found that the average length that a desktop display impression was in view for declined from 9.8 seconds last May to 7.7 seconds this month. As more advertisers adopt viewability standards, like the Media Rating Council’s rule that stipulates that at least half of a display ad must be in view for at least one second to be counted as viewable, it appears that publishers are doing whatever they can to make sure their ads are viewed for just a second, and advertisers are buying ads that hit that mark and calling it a day.
“There is not a ton of incentive for publishers to try and make impressions last longer than the viewability standard,” said Travis Lusk, vp of analytics at IAS. “If they achieve one second, they get paid the exact same amount as they would if they deliver eight seconds.”
To increase their amount of viewable ads, publishers refresh pages, stick ads in photo galleries and use interstitials, Lusk said. A lot of briefly viewed ads also come from clickbait websites that draw in users for a single second before they realize the content is junk and close the websites, he said.
Abe Diaz, associate media director at ad agency RPA, said the push for viewability has overall been a positive development for the digital ad industry, but he also acknowledged that “publishers and ad tech companies are going to first and foremost ensure that they’re doing the minimum amount of redesigning and pivoting” to make sure that their ads are measured as viewable.
Diaz and Lusk support the MRC in adopting a standard, but they said it was was meant to be a minimum standard, not the gold standard that some advertisers treat it like. David Gunzerath, associate director of the MRC, emphasized that “viewability isn’t intended to be a measure of an ad’s effectiveness or the success of an ad’s messaging, but rather it’s a measure of the success of the ad’s delivery.”
It is hard to argue against the idea that ads paid for should be seen by humans, but focusing on viewability can have unintended consequences. Because the most intrusive ads are highly viewable, viewability mandates create ad clutter that may be driving users to ad block. Since some publishers are gaming the viewability standard to appease advertisers, viewability should be treated as a transaction metric, not a marketing goal, said Marc Goldberg, CEO of brand-safety firm Trust Metrics.
However, most advertisers now transact on viewability. In an IAS survey of more than 1,000 advertisers taken in December, 68 percent of respondents said they transact on viewability and another 25 percent said they wanted to transact on viewability.
“Clients don’t want to pay for things that didn’t happen,” said Joe Barone, managing partner of digital ad ops at GroupM, which, like most large ad buyers, transacts on viewability. “They don’t want to feel like somebody is getting away with something.”
The ad agency AMP has gone back and forth on buying ads based on viewability criteria, said AMP programmatic buyer Keagan McDonnell. Although clients want to know that their ads are being viewed, ads that are seen for under a second can still provide valuable data to advertisers. By simply serving the ad to users regardless of how long it is seen, AMP can collect device IDs and drop trackers that are useful for building audience databases and targeting, he said.
“Viewability is important, but we are often working with one second,” he said. “As an agency, we look to further business goals rather than advertising metrics.”