You’ve probably heard that famous quote from Peter Drucker, “What gets measured gets managed.” That’s true for viewability, but the way we traditionally manage it is misguided.
Since viewability is measured in percentage, the natural inclination is to get as close to 100 percent as possible. We’re moving closer all the time, but that shouldn’t be the goal. The goal for marketers should be to sell products. Providing ads that are actually seen by potential customers is a big part of that, but we should not get too hung up on making sure that everyone who can see an ad sees one – as it’s always going to be more valuable to reach people who want to see an ad and buy a product.
A better approach is to determine the likelihood that an ad gets viewed and base pricing on this metric. Since our algorithms are getting better and better, we are getting very good at predicting viewability probability. For marketers, the accuracy of this probability matters a great deal and results in lower viewable CPMs.
What Viewability Is and What it Isn’t
Everyone agrees that marketers shouldn’t pay for ads that aren’t viewable. But what is “viewable?” There’s the rub. Lacking precise measurements, the Media Ratings Council in 2014 decided that seeing 50 percent of a banner for a full second counts as a view. For video, it’s 2 seconds. While that’s the standard, not everyone adheres to it. GroupM, for instance, thinks you have to see 100 percent of a banner for a full second or else it’s not viewable.
Those standards are based on an activity that occurs after an ad has been placed. However, marketers don’t buy ads after the fact, they buy them beforehand. If you’re running a TV ad and want to reach 18-24 year-olds, then you buy time on “Broad City” assuming that people that age will be in the audience.
Since this is how advertising works, being able to assess the probability of viewability is of utmost importance. One way to do this is to analyze how much existing ads are being viewed. With a large data sample, you can accurately predict the viewability level of any given ad.
As a result, every time we evaluate a bid request, we can come up with a unique probability for each. We can then bid on that impression, given the odds of it being viewable. If we think that it’s very likely that it will be a viewable impression, then we’ll bid more for it.
This opens up some interesting possibilities. A CPG company we work with is executing a viewability optimization program to maximize ROI on a fairly low viewable CPM. By using the best algorithm at our disposal, we can ensure that viewability for that client is as high as possible. That accuracy allows us to charge less than the competition because we’re helping the client buy fewer ads.
Other Metrics Matter More
The reality is that viewability isn’t a sure thing. You don’t know if someone is going to really sit through your video. This is true for every type of ad. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles could tell when there was a commercial break during popular shows like “I Love Lucy” because everyone was hitting the bathroom at the same time. So much for the viewability of those ads.
So 100 percent viewability always was and always will be unattainable. The proper response from marketers should be “who cares?”
That’s because viewability isn’t in itself a goal. The goal should be some sort or brand metric like brand lift, awareness or Net Promoter Score. Viewability should be a means to the end of improving that metric. Marketers should pay an appropriate amount to reach a certain level of viewability and go back to focusing on how many units they sold.
That’s how you manage viewability: focus on the outcome.
For more perspectives on viewability, check out this eBook.
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