Trade Groups Spar Over Display-Ad Viewability

With advertisers struggling to ensure that their investments aren't going to waste, ad groups have become increasingly focused on ensuring that ads can always be seen. But as one ad-industry group notes, solving the problem is more difficult than it sounds.

Is 70 percent enough? It depends on who’s answering.

A recent debate embroiling the advertising sector centers on the idea of viewability—specifically, ensuring that actual people see the ads displayed online so that advertisers get their money’s worth from their campaigns. The challenge is significant, and one ad-industry group says that a perfect fix remains a major challenge, leading another group to push back. More details:

About the problem: In the past year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and other industry groups have made a push to increase the number of ads that are seen online. In a speech last February, IAB Chairman Vivek Shah cited some troubling stastics: Research has shown that more than a third of all ads are displayed to automated sources. Even worse: Google recently released estimates showing that more than half of all the ads it serves fail to hit viewability standards set by the Media Rating Council (MRC), meaning that the ads are on the screen for less than a second—if they’re seen at all.

Setting a modest goal: IAB notes, and MRC seems to agree [PDF], that solving the viewability problem in the short term is next to impossible. So last month, IAB set a more modest goal for 2015, saying that 70 percent of all ads should be viewable by people. “It’s time to set the record straight about what is technically and commercially feasible, in order to get ourselves on an effective road to 100 percent viewability and greater accountability for digital media,” IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg said in a press release.

But not everyone’s on board: IAB’s release played up the collaboration between the bureau and two other ad-industry groups: the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s). But 4A’s decided it couldn’t get behind IAB’s 70 percent pitch. In an email sent by 4A’s to its members just before the holidays that was acquired by The Wall Street Journal, the group said it would “not endorse” the viewability standards. And the group wasn’t the lone critic: “Running a campaign and paying for 30 percent of the ads not being viewable isn’t acceptable to us or our clients,” Magna Global Executive Vice President Todd Gordon told the Journal, while MediaPost reacted to the release with something of an arched brow, suggesting that the note was akin to a preemptive attempt to lower expectations.

“That’s not a ringing endorsement of the industry’s current state of being in the battle against viewability,” MediaPost writer Tyler Loechner argued. “And having 2015 be classified as a transition year at the end of 2014, which was also referred to as a ‘transition’ year for viewability as 2013 came to a close, makes the road ahead look a lot longer, if at all traversable.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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