Brands have been focusing on ad viewability, but viewability is not a game-changing metric. In reality, viewability is table stakes. Ensuring real people view your ads is important, but a sole focus on it may create blind spots in a brand’s digital media plan.
Brands should adopt a wider focus beyond viewability for a few reasons. Focusing on viewability is inefficient because of the lack of standardization across the industry. And viewability, unlike sales and volume of customers, is not a business goal and may distract from other metrics that positively impact your bottom line. Additionally, the value of viewability is becoming eroded as brands invest more in performance products and digital media attribution.
Companies such as MOAT, Nielsen, and DoubleVerify allow brands to track viewability, but no two vendors will generate the same results because each one uses a different measurement methodology. In a recent whitepaper, 614 Group Founder Rob Rasko articulates the challenge this way: “Every single vendor answered that they measure in a slightly different way and count NHT (non-human traffic) in a different way. If they’re all counting in a different way, how would you expect the numbers would match up?”
And it’s not just measurement companies that disagree. The Media Ratings Council counts a video view if at least 50% of ad pixels are in view for at least two consecutive seconds. However, a leading agency, GroupM only counts a video view if 100% of pixels are viewed and 50% of the video content is viewed with the audio on and autoplay off. The industry must come together to set clear universal standards so that brands can check the viewability box and move on to achieving bigger business goals.
Furthermore, even as industry stakeholders struggle to get viewability right, we must not settle for it as a definitive measure of success. Brands are already moving from media-based outcomes, such as views or clicks, toward tangible business objectives, such as signups, downloads, and sales. Digital media commands approximately a third of U.S. ad spending, and about two-thirds of those dollars are used for performance-based campaigns. This is a drastic shift from the past decade when more money was allocated to awareness campaigns. This reality indicates an important change in industry perspective.
The increased focus on campaign performance has made advances in ad technology more urgent. The results are enabling brands to select from digital metrics that are more directly associated with their business goals.
For instance, mobile advertising IDs from Apple and Google combined with geolocation technology can be used to drive in-store traffic. Shoppable video makes video units actionable. Value exchange units guarantee engagements like completed views, web traffic, and survey completions. Mobile integrations allow app downloads, social engagements, and in-app purchases. These lower-funnel marketing tactics are more closely tied to real business ROI. And improvements in digital attribution will further propel brands to invest more heavily in these KPIs.
Still, media attribution is one of the toughest nuts to crack. Forty percent of marketing executives say that media attribution is their most valued marketing service. While cross-channel attribution is expensive, predicted to occupy the majority of marketers’ resources this year, digital attribution provides a clear path to ROI. (For example, a consumer experience can begin and end on a single device). Attribution is deservedly a focus for brands, but just like viewability, its current status is imperfect at best.
Attribution is complex, and companies are experimenting with new technologies to better connect the dots and justify digital spend. A promising technology is the beacon. This tiny device transmits data to smartphones and other devices via Bluetooth and can help connect a mobile ad campaign to an in-store purchase. It’s also implemented by 45% of U.S. retailers.
Retailers and hotels use beacons to personalize services and encourage purchases and loyalty. However, this technology is still nascent. The steps required for customers to enable beacons is cumbersome; many marketers overuse push notifications, annoying customers; beacon signals are often blocked by physical objects, providing inconsistent service, and of course, they don’t work when Bluetooth is off. In spite of the flaws, beacons are expected to help retailers generate $44 billion in sales this year, and brands are flocking to this technology because they can use it to better track and target customers and influence sales.
Viewability, for all its flaws, is a big step in the right direction, but it’s not enough to move the needle for brands. Brands that understand the limitations and shortcomings of viewability and widen their approach to focus on performance metrics and attribution will see their ad dollars deliver even greater returns.