The online ad industry has latched on to "viewability" as a great new standard for online advertising. To be sure, viewability gets us closer to the ideal -- that the ad you buy at least can be seen by someone. But as with the man under the lamppost, the real solution is elsewhere. What advertisers want isn't viewability -- it's noticeability.
A viewable impression in a cluttered environment is unlikely ever to be noticed. Many of today's pages are a hot mess of links, content, graphics, skins, unrequested video and floating banners. They are an assault on the senses, and one sense in particular -- our vision -- does some quick filtering to skip through the obstacles and find what we came for. If the cognitive dissonance is too strong, we're gone. The ads we skipped counted as viewable, but we never noticed them.
Without the addition of page-quality data, viewability will never give advertisers what they really want: a measure of how well their ads stood out. Programmatic buying has trained us to believe in that each impression has value. If each impression counts, then advertisers should a) stop buying blind inventory and b) demand the addition of page-quality information.
If we can raise our awareness beyond the lamppost, we will find ways to improve upon viewability. Big -money brand advertisers will gain the ability to gauge the effectiveness of their programmatic spend. Thus armed, they can compare that effectiveness across publishers, and can then communicate to publishers, via the pricing function, the kind of supply that truly interests them.
A viewability metric that includes page-quality data also aids publishers, by giving them a way to improve the quality of their pages -- the layout, the ad quantity, the type of ad that works best -- so they can attract better advertisers and better readers alike. When engagement goes up, and pages and audiences become more valuable, the ecosystem improves for everyone.
Look at the gray areas on the two pages pictured here. They offer equivalent viewability, but the environment of the one on the right resulted in a much higher ad recall among surveyed readers. Which matters more to an advertiser: being seen, or being remembered?
Clutter isn't just the advertising, it's everything -- the entire environment of a page. If we take a page out of Apple's design book and focus on creating content experiences that are more elegant, even long-tail content can be sold as premium -- because advertisers could count on finding the right audience, the right content and the right environment.
That's what can happen if publishers give advertisers noticeability, rather than mere viewability.