Imagine having to charge your phone inside a house that has electrical outlets in 200 different shapes. Each has the power that your phone needs, but you have to find the one with the right fit.
While that sounds ridiculous, it sheds light on the current state of ad viewability for marketers.
Although groups like the Media Ratings Council and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have already recommended definitions for "viewable" ad impressions, publishers still hire different vendors using differing technology to measure them.
That's maddening for marketers demanding greater accountability from digital advertising, including clearer measurements of whether the ads they serve appear on-screen or off. And it undercuts the publishers' ability to compete with Facebook, the kingpin of digital display advertising, which uses the same technology to measure viewability on its 1.86 billion users.
Now the IAB Tech Lab is aiming to close this viewability-technology gap by creating an open, unifying tech standard to measure viewability that can be used by anyone in digital advertising. Publishers could still use different vendors, but marketers could better understand what proportion of their ads are seen.
Viewability measurement company Moat provides about 200 different display metrics and about 200 different video metrics. WPP's GroupM, the world's largest ad buyer for marketers, says it trades on about five of those. But ad campaigns executed by other buyers might use different metrics entirely.
"So the commonality of the technology gives all the opportunity to choose the standard for trading," said Joe Barone, managing partner of digital ad operations at GroupM. "A publisher can either accept the terms or reject the terms."
Should such a tech standard be achieved with viewability, it might also allow marketers to run large-scale campaigns with hundreds of leading publishers quickly and still get easily digested viewability measures.
That sort of thinking would make it easier for marketers to run their campaigns outside of Google and Facebook, said Michael Connolly, CEO at the ad-tech developer Sonobi.
"It would bring scale and get back some of that inventory that has been going to Google and Facebook," Mr. Connolly. "We're coming in and providing the actual mechanics to execute that."
Sonobi, GroupM and LinkedIn are the latest members to join the IAB Tech Lab. The trio will contribute to developing what might eventually become the standard tech that's used to measure viewability.
"Philosophically, there are different views on what is viewable -- everyone's interest aren't necessarily aligned," Mike Romoff, head of global agency and channel sales at LinkedIn. "Advertisers, generally speaking, want a standard more restricted -- everything is in view for three seconds. And publishers want their standard."
The question then becomes, "How can I address the marketer's concern and not take away too much revenue from the publisher," Mr. Romoff said. "Different [viewability] vendors are taking a different approach."