On Ad Viewability: Why the V­-Word Needs to Become a Common Currency

We Can't Maximize the Web's Potential Until Viewable Impressions Are Measurable Across Platforms

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One of the biggest advantages that digital can offer brands is the potential for better measurement for their campaigns, whether based on reach and frequency, sales lift, brand favorability or other broad goals. But the most important four letters in display advertising today are V-­I-­E-­W.

Viewability. Viewable impressions. Viewed impressions. Cost per view. The V-­word.

The move to a world where brand marketers pay only for display ad impressions that can actually be viewed by people (as opposed to impressions that a user may never scroll to, or race past without seeing) promises a dramatic and positive sea­ change in our industry.

Greater integrity. We know from our own early experience that major brands, which have historically eschewed digital for TV despite the rapid movement of audiences online, love the notion of viewable impressions. It increases their trust in digital marketing and assures them that they're getting what they paid for: an ad that could actually be seen by their target audience, something other media can't offer. Widespread adoption of a viewable-impression standard will increase brands' confidence and willingness to invest in digital exponentially. At the same time, the move towards viewable impressions is creating, for the first time, a natural limiting factor to the amount of available inventory online. The beneficiaries of both these trends are high-­quality publishers, large and small, who deliver truly great experiences for their users. This is unambiguously a good thing for the digital world.

Better insights. Now that viewability technology exists, marketers are able to derive insights into their campaign performance that are superior to those currently available. This is because they can ascertain the impact of ads that can be viewed by their target audience. When advertisers get a more accurate picture of how their creatives are performing, they're able to focus on the campaigns and the ad placements that are truly performing the best. And publishers can use the same insights to achieve the best returns on any inventory that has historically been less valued. For example, in Google's viewability pilot, many mobile ads have proved to be more viewable than desktop ones, suggesting that some of this inventory has been undervalued.

But here's the rub. While, happily, many in our industry are evangelizing this brave new world, we're not there yet. And we're not going to get there until we create a common currency around viewable impressions. From ancient metals, to Charlemagne's livre carolienne that fuelled French expansion, to the U.S. dollar to the humble click, the role of a basic, common currency in spurring growth, investment, confidence and trade is undeniable. But when it comes to the V-­word, we're still operating a primitive barter economy. Everyone measures their own merchandise independently. There is no common language, nor a way to compare metrics across vendors.

Publishers, brands and ad tech vendors are not yet able to value, buy, sell, serve, optimize and measure viewable impressions across platforms with confidence.

To achieve a common currency, so that viewable impressions can be bought and sold as easily as clicks, it's imperative that we agree on a common definition and technology for measuring viewable impressions. Laudably, work here is well underway, led by the IAB and many active participants. The Media Rating Council recently announced plans to lift an advisory warning against using viewability as a currency early next year, a move we wholeheartedly support. The sooner we all get started on this task the better.

But this is the straightforward work of creating a useful currency. The more important work requires that we deliver on two fronts.

Transparency. ­­ Just as common accounting standards and disclosure requirements enable investors to assess key financials and metrics, and to determine value accordingly, transparency in the viewable impression currency is critical. Both marketers and publishers need the ability to make decisions based on a shared set of metrics, so they can sell inventory and buy campaigns with equal information. If marketers and publishers are using their own siloed technologies, keeping their cards close to their chests, we're not going to get the full benefits of a viewability currency.

Actionability. ­­ Imagine a world in which prices and quantities for products are adjusted and haggled after they've already changed hands. Chaos! If viewability becomes just another data point on an after-­the-­fact report for advertisers and publishers, we'll be missing the opportunity that only the web provides: making real-­time decisions about a campaign. In a world where advertisers only pay for ­­ and publishers are only paid by ­­ views, neither will be content to wait for a report at the end of the week to know how much was spent. Access to real-­time knowledge will also allow all parties to make adjustments quickly when things aren't going as expected, rather than leaving opportunities on the table. Let's build for that future, not an after-­the-­fact one.

For both of these areas, building viewability metrics into ad buying, selling and trading systems, and making sure we enable easy integration between technologies, is absolutely essential.

As this future comes into view, we look forward to brands investing in display with more confidence, and publishers being rewarded for investing in high-­quality content and engaged audiences. Our brand, agency and publisher partners, like Publicis Groupe's Vivaki, Kellogg's and the Wall Street Journal, have been valuable collaborators in understanding this issue and have helped shape our perspective. We look forward to working with them, and the industry, towards an actionable and transparent viewability currency.

Neal Mohan is VP-display advertising at Google.

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