Study: Viewability Matters, But Likeability Matters Even More in Online Video

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Sales lift for Kellogg products improved the longer people watched ads -- but only up to 16 seconds.
Sales lift for Kellogg products improved the longer people watched ads -- but only up to 16 seconds. Credit: Nielsen Catalina Solutions

Ad viewability matters when it comes to generating sales with online video, but not as much as whether the ad is likable. That's according to a study of Kellogg Co. brands by Nielsen Catalina Solutions to be presented Tuesday at the Advertising Research Foundation annual conference -- and it's news that may warm the hearts of creatives.

The study found that when online video ads reach the Media Rating Council standard (50% of pixels in view for at least two seconds) the resulting sales lift is much higher than when they don't. But longer view times up to 16 seconds had a much stronger correlation with sales. And ads deemed "likable" by panelists for copy testing firm Ace Metrix had the strongest sales lift of all – a 172 index where 100 is the average for people exposed to ads in the study. Surprisingly, hitting the right target audience or the number of impressions mattered relatively little.

"There's a bit of a crisis of confidence in digital advertising right now," said NCS Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Feigenson. "I believe the way to get past that is through transparent metrics." And he said the study clearly suggests "a big difference between in view and not in view in terms of sales impact. But then we deconstructed that, and you see there's actually a value in views longer than two seconds."

Marketers are far from unified on the subject. Procter & Gamble Co. is pushing for digital marketers to validate viewership at the MRC level. Unilever has been insisting on videos playing at least half their length -- which for 30-second ads would be right in that 7-16 second sweet spot.

Digital measurement firm Moat and Yahoo's demand-side platform Brightroll, which served ads programmatically, also participated in the study involving undisclosed Kellogg brands. The study measured sales lift by matching people exposed to online video ads using Nielsen's online research panel with household sales results gleaned from Catalina's shopper loyalty card database. Sales for households where someone was exposed to the ads were compared to those where they weren't.

The wide-ranging study looked at 15 factors that could affect sales impact from online video ads, including frequency of impressions and whether the ads hit their intended targets. Those two factors – among the most important things programmatic ad buying manages–were among the weakest influences on sales.

The study supports the value of the MRC viewability standard – but with some important caveats. The biggest impact came between at 7-16 seconds, which had a sales-lift index of 164, well above the 82 index for ads that barely reached the MRC cutoff.

Yet even ads below the MRC standard for viewing time generated some sales lift, though less than a third of that for viewable impressions. Still, given that those impressions may be free for advertisers who only pay for viewable impressions, the study suggests they may be getting something for nothing.

The study also shows that the effect of hitting the MRC two-second standard isn't that different than just hitting Moat's standard for served impressions – ads that are audible and visible when fully loaded (AVOC) on a device. The sales-lift index for all MRC-viewable impressions was 154 vs. 135 for Moat's served impressions. Viewers who watched for two to four seconds -- just over the two-second minimum MRC threshold – had a sales-lift index at 82, well below that 135 level for Moat's AVOC impressions.

The strong impact of likeability scores – which produced the biggest sales lift of all -- also raises the question of how important the media placement or the technology are vs. the quality of the creative and how well people simply like the ad. The strong correlation of both longer view times and likeability to sales, suggests people who liked the ads watched longer and bought more. That wasn't specifically tested in the study, however, Mr. Feigenson said.

Viewable impressions did better, but served impressions as defined by Moat did nearly as well.
Viewable impressions did better, but served impressions as defined by Moat did nearly as well. Credit: Nielsen Catalina Solutions

More surprisingly, the sales lift for people who "watched" ads longer than 16 seconds actually was lower than when for those who watched shorter periods. Those paradoxical results suggest the longest view times may come in part from people who have looked away, put down their phones or otherwise aren't paying attention. Or else some stayed around long enough to see something they didn't like. But that wasn't part of the study either.

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