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Do You See What I See? The Importance of Viewability for Brand and Performance Advertising

This article originally appeared on on May 2, 2018.

Having a set of standards for viewability does more than protect agencies from paying for unseen impressions. Not sticking to a uniform viewability code can cause marketers to reach inaccurate conclusions about ad effectiveness, which can derail advertising campaigns across the board.

For those unfamiliar with the term, viewability refers to whether an ad impression can actually be seen by a viewer; for example, if an ad appears at the bottom of a webpage, and the viewer leaves that page before navigating to the ad’s location, that impression would not be counted as viewable.

Fortunately, we already have an agreed upon viewability standard. In 2014, the Media Rating Council (MRC) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau agreed that, for an impression be considered viewable, at least 50% of the ad must be viewed for at least one second for display ads and two seconds for video ads. Nevertheless, many still measure visibility by different standards, some of which are far removed from the MRC’s and may generate skewed statistics that lead to ill-founded spending choices.

Viewability has already proven its usefulness in measuring the impact of brand advertising. A Google review of 1,000 YouTube ads demonstrated that the amount of brand awareness, ad recall, and consideration an ad receives increases with longer viewability times. However, viewability has also been shown to substantially affect conversion rates and other performance outcomes. Another analysis found that display ads which met the MRC standard for visibility were correlated with a conversion rate four times higher than ads that didn’t achieve the MRC level. MRC-verified video ads on YouTube also saw significantly higher conversion rates.

It may seem like common sense that ads which are actually seen tend to work best; however, quantifying the impact also proves that without the MRC standards, conversion numbers for performance campaigns falsely appear to be driven by ads that have been neither viewed nor clicked. Click-through rates don’t necessarily verify or refute an ad’s potency, of course, but correctly counting view-through conversions prevents companies from making overestimations that generate mistaken costs per acquisition (CPA) of media sources and result in misinformed spending.

For an issue that can cause so many complications, the solution to a varying viewability code is simple. Advertisers need to adopt the MRC standards, and advocate that their peers do the same. Companies from Google to Goodyear, as well as ad firms like Integral Ad Science have consistently supported the MRC standard, which they believe will both simplify and improve the effectiveness of advertising metrics industry wide.

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