Viewability is No Guarantee of Being Seen

MRC Gives Green Light to Viewable Impressions, But It's Not Enough

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On Monday, the Media Rating Council lifted its advisory against using viewable impressions as a digital advertising currency metric. For the full background and explanation, see Ad Age's report, "MRC Tells Ad Industry It's Okay To Use Viewable Impressions."

But what does it really mean, in practical terms, for the digital advertising community to begin transacting on viewable impressions?

For brands and agencies, it represents renewed assurance they'll get the impressions they paid for -- a reasonable expectation to be sure. For publishers and networks, it means a period of adjustment that may be painful for those who are unprepared.

We've already seen sites like The Daily Beast and Yahoo adopt scrolling formats with streaming content, more images and native ad placements. Publishers and networks that have built MRC-accredited viewability and ad quality controls into their platforms are most likely to win in this new era.

The ad industry's leading trade associations have defined guidelines under which the industry can operate within a common framework, and a host of firms stand ready to measure and report on viewable impressions. But the real "heavy lifting" now falls to the media buyers and sellers to determine what it truly means to transact on viewable impressions.

Viewability is a foundational component of ad quality, but it's only one dimension of a complex formula for calculating the value and effectiveness of any digital media plan. As such, the industry is less likely to take transacting on viewable impressions so literally. Instead, expect agencies and brands to incorporate the new metric as part of an overall ad quality measurement score.

Although a viewable impression standard is important, unfortunately it's not enough, and our banner-blindness epidemic is likely to continue.

There's a big difference between impressions that are "viewable" and those that are "seen." After all, how much of an impression can a banner ad on the periphery of a page really make if only half of its pixels are in view for one second? It's a fine technical standard, but not one that's likely to move the needle on brand metrics.

According to eye-tracking firm Sticky, about half of all ads that are technically viewable aren't actually seen, which may explain the continued excitement around the promise of native advertising.

This is a great first step, but now it's time to turn attention to other important items on the Making Measurement Make Sense agenda, such as the creation of a digital gross ratings point standard and new methods to quantify engagement.

It's fantastic that a green light has been given to transact on viewable impressions, but our focus now needs to turn to display advertising solutions that are guaranteed to be seen, not just viewed, and that will truly move the needle on the engagement metrics brands care about most.

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