You want to know where you are wasting HALF of your media spend?  Easy answer:  Digital Display.  You want to fix it?  Not so easy:  your agency and media partners will not promise it.  I am surprised on a daily basis that five years after technology allowed us to measure whether an advertisement fully loaded on a screen in front of a human, that advertisers are still paying for the 42% of impressions (on average) that do not.  Waste.  On a $10 million digital display budget, that’s $4 million out the window.  I’m not sure how much more clearly we could define it.  Agencies and publishers continue to say that they cannot or will not transact based on viewability.  I understand that perhaps your partners are optimizing against some lower-funnel metric than viewability, but really is it even remotely acceptable to say that paying for non-viewable impressions is productive?  Last time I checked, you have to be a human to be a customer, and you have to see an advertisement for it to work.  (If you have non-human customers, please let me know.)

In 2014, The Media Ratings Council (MRC) published a standard industry definition of % In-View (50% of the pixels rendered for at least one second, or at least two seconds for video).  In that same year, the Interactive Ad Bureau (IAB) membership agreed that 70% viewability is the industry goal.  In 2015, one big agency holding company made a road show out of their promise to elevate the viewability definition to 100% of the pixels are required to load on the viewable part of the screen for 3 seconds.  (I’m not sure if the ANA has weighed in on this, but I’d find it hard to believe advertisers want any less than 100%.)  The good news is that general awareness and tracking of viewability the past few years has yielded improvements:  display viewability has risen from 48% in 2016, to 55% in 2018, and 58% today.  However, we still have plenty of upside.As of mid-2019, and among our accountability-minded clients, MMi has yet to see viewability standards and expectations defined anywhere in the control documents through the Digital media supply chain:  agency contracts or service agreements, Digital Buying Guidelines, and Media Property insertion orders or contracts.  And agencies continue to want an A+ for wasting only 40% of their client’s money; after all, they performed much better than industry average and their stated KPI goals were exceeded.  Wait.  What?  How much higher might have been the KPIs if ad exposure to humans was higher?

Let’s digress for a moment and mention where MMi has seen improvements:  fraud and geography management.  We are finally seeing language in some agency contracts and some vendor terms and conditions that note maximum tolerances for Bots and Invalid Traffic (IVT).  We are seeing the marketplace establish tolerances of 5-10%.  For you advertisers out there, this means you are agreeing to waste 5-10% of your spend on what is measured and known to be fraudulent or shown outside of the U.S.  On that example $10 million digital display budget, that’s up to $1 million out the window.  So while we are happy to see these important metrics addressed, we have a long way to go to minimize waste in these areas as well as get those tolerances for deviations much closer to zero.Back to viewability.  The industry seems stuck somewhere between denial and awareness on this issue.   Or maybe the knowledge that something can be done about it.  Can’t quite get to action.  MMi Recommends Four Steps you can take today with your Digital buys to move productivity forward:

  1. Measure and track viewability for your campaigns.  Make this an agency requirement via contract or buying guidelines for every campaign and every selected partner.  Require exception reports for any partners recommended for purchase who cannot or will not accept third-party viewability measurement tags, and develop a tolerance range (or cap) on the amount of budget allocated to those who cannot or will not.  This research cost should not be incremental;  it will fund itself by re-allocated funds that were previously wasted on paid impressions.  (Yes, we are saying you should lower your paid media spend to fund it.  It’s a net gain in effectiveness for your campaigns.)  Your agency can recommend one of several available and widely accepted research providers.  (MMi uses comScore VCE by default but also works with DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science.)
  2. Establish and document acceptable tolerances for non-viewable impressions.  This can be done via Buying Guidelines (at minimum) or Contractual Requirements (more favorable).  Consider industry averages, prior performance, campaign objectives and media partners.  This may be updated annually or quarterly, or be stated on a per-campaign basis.  For example, a programmatic upper funnel buy may be acceptable for 50% to start, whereas a site-direct, endemic buy may expect 70%.
  3. Understand and ask to see copies of the terms and conditions your agency is writing into the media partner contracts.  Make sure they note your fraud and non-U.S. maximums, and that viewability will be monitored (at minimum) or guaranteed to some threshold (more favorable), and the research source-of-record for these metrics.  NOT the seller’s numbers.  (Students don’t get to grade their own papers.)
  4. Keep an ongoing dialogue with your agency and partners about converting from CPM to CPV, or Cost-per-Viewable impressions.  With resistance, two good first steps are to require reporting of performance based on CPV (regardless of vendor transaction currency), and to re-orient stakeholders to the higher costs per thousand viewable impressions versus total impressions.  The higher CPM argument is based on ignorance, so go ahead and educate those around you.  Cheaper might not be better, when nearly half of it has no chance of ever being viewed by a human.

Our Founder/CEO has a great line he used raising his kids, “Don’t let your [problems] become my [problems].”  This should be the Advertisers’ message to this media channel.  Too often we hear agencies say the vendors will not guarantee viewability.  Quit letting them pass the buck.  Hold them accountable to being your agent and actively managing this metric for you.  Let them have skin in this game and figure out how to fix it.

As always, MMi is here to help you in this important media accountability area.  Our clients have seen viewability increase +20% year-over-year by establishing it as a KPI for the digital supply chain and including third-party measurement and validation.For more information or to discuss further, please contact your MMi Account Director or Steve Smith.

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