The Interactive Advertising Bureau said Tuesday that it isn't yet possible to guarantee that every impression in a digital ad campaign will meet the industry's viewability standard.
"It's time to set the record straight about what is technically and commercially feasible, in order to get ourselves on an effective road to 100 percent viewability and greater accountability for digital media," Randall Rothenberg, IAB's president and CEO, said in a statement.
Viewability, or an online ad's ability to be actually seen, has become an important topic among marketers, who are concerned that they're paying for online ads that few people see because, for example, they're served lower down on the screen than many people scroll. The Media Rating Council last year said an ad could be considered "viewable" when 50% of it is visible for one second or more.
The Media Rating Council said in October that it is "unreasonable for advertisers, agencies and publishers implementing viewable impressions as measurement currency to expect to observe viewable rates of 100% in analyses of their campaigns."
The IAB said Tuesday that it supports the goal of ad campaigns in which every impression meets the viewability standard, but agreed with the Media Rating Council that the technology and measurement systems aren't ready yet.
"The MRC said it best," Mr. Rothenberg said in his statement Tuesday. "100% is currently unreasonable. Why? Because, different ad units, browsers, ad placements, vendors and measurement methodologies yield wildly different viewability numbers."
"Publishers, agencies, marketers, and ad tech companies can resolve these differences by working collaboratively to make measurement make sense," he added. "We won't do it by holding guns to each others' heads."
The IAB's argument, laid out in a position paper titled "State of Viewability Transaction 2015," comes less than one month after the media-buying conglomerate GroupM said it had reached an agreement with Condé Nast, the publisher of brands such as Vogue and Style.com, to pay only for online ads that are entirely viewable by consumers, a stricter standard than the Media Rating Council.
In theory, the MRC's viewability standard should increase ad rates for publishers because only a limited supply of the web's vast inventory qualifies as viewable. But several publishers have said their ad rates were still facing downward pressure, and many had incurred additional costs shaping up their web pages to ensure their ads are within view. Unilever and GroupM, meanwhile, are pressing for an even more stringent standard.
"The advertising industry should recognize that 2015 is a year of transition: technology and billing systems have to catch up to this massive move to greater accountability in advertising measurement and delivery," the IAB's position paper says. It recommends not applying a standard stricter than 70%.
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CORRECTION: Correction: An earlier version of this article said the IAB was arguing against a stricter definition of what makes any given ad "viewable." The IAB's paper actually deals with what proportion of a campaign should be held to the standard definition of viewability.