The “100% ad viewability” gambit: Gimmick or game-changer?

Say hello to the ad industry’s newest acronym: vCPM (viewable cost-per-thousand).

viewabilityA few weeks back, Google announced that it will be introducing 100% viewable ads in the coming months, bringing all online ad campaigns bought on a CPM basis into view across its Google Display Network.

The news comes as a relief to advertisers, who have long complained about the high percentage of ads that never have a chance to be viewed by “real people.”

The statistic that Google likes to reference is that approximately 55% of all display ads are never viewed due to a myriad of factors — such as appearing being below the fold, being scrolled out of view, or showing up in a background tab.

And the problem is only growing larger with the increased adoption of ad blocker software tools.

Google isn’t the only that’s one coming up with in-view advertising guarantees. Facebook recently announced that it will begin selling 100% viewable ads in its News Feed area.

But some are questioning how much of a better benefit 100% viewability will be in actuality. For one thing, ad rates for these program are sure to be higher than for conventional ad buying contracts.

For another, neither Facebook nor Google have stated how long an ad would need to remain in view before an advertiser gets charged. Whether it’s 1 second, 2 seconds or 5 seconds makes a huge difference in the real worth of that exposure to the consumer.

Then there’s the realm of mobile advertising. In a startling analysis conducted and reported on by The New York Times, a mix of advertising and editorial on the mobile home pages of the top 50 news sites was measured.  What the analysis found was that mobile airtime is being chewed up by advertising content far more than by the editorial content people are tuning in to view.

Boston.com mobile readers are a case in point. The analysis found that its readers spend an average of ~31 seconds waiting for ads to load versus ~8 seconds waiting for the editorial content to load.  That translates into a home page visitor paying $9.50 per month — just to view the ads.

ad blockerWhen there’s suddenly a cost implication in addition to the basic “irritation factor,” expect more smartphone and tablet users to avail themselves of ad blockers even more than they do today.

As if on cud, Apple is now allowing ad blockers on the iPhone, giving consumers the ability to conserve data, make websites load faster, and save on usage charges all in one fell swoop.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal all-around.

Google Comes Clean on Ad Viewability (or Non-Viewability?)

clear view or no clear viewThere have been quite a few reports in recent times pointing to the lack of viewability of online display advertising, and I’ve blogged about this topic before.

And now, we have the $55-billion “advertising vacuum-cleaner company” Google itself admitting as much.

It comes in a study that Google has just released.  The report presents findings from its analysis of display ad programs using its “active view” technology (like DoubleClick) to determine which factors are affecting the viewability of ads.

The results aren’t pretty; more on that below.

But first … why is Google doing this?

I suspect it’s because more advertisers are now insisting on paying only for their ads that have been actually viewed, as compared to those simply served.

Now, to what Google is reporting.  It turns out that fewer than half of all ad impressions served on Google’s display platforms are ever seen, because they’re served outside of the viewer’s browser window.

That is correct:  A huge chunk of Google’s billions in ad revenues that it collects come from ads that no one ever saw.

What digital advertising platforms love to remind us is that their programs are superior to “bad old television and radio advertising” because of their sophisticated targeting capabilities and their superior measurement metrics.

That may be.  But how is it all that different for TV viewers to miss an ad because they took a kitchen or bathroom break, compared to people who never even had the opportunity to see an ad that was “served” in a dead zone?

The next question is, “What can advertisers do to help minimize the incidence of phantom online advertising?”

Helpfully, Google provides some clues in its report.  For instance, the highest viewability for ads is immediately above the “fold” – in other words, at the point where the viewer must begin to scroll down to see the rest of the page.

Surprisingly, viewability right above the fold is slightly higher than at the very top of the page.  But it’s massively less so just below that magic spot.  Google pressented five charts in its report to illustrate this drop-off phenomenon; the one reproduced below shows viewability of vertical position ads sized 728 x 90 pixels:

Average viewability by vertical position on online ads

 

Less surprising, perhaps, is the fact that vertical ads have higher viewability than horizontal or block ads, for the simple reason that they stay on the page longer:

Most viewable online display ad sizes

 

By publishing this data, Google purports to want to help their advertisers understand high- and low-value inventory better so they can target their campaigns more appropriately and effectively.

Google is also encouraging publishers to strive for delivering viewability rates in excess of 50% by offering ad inventory that will perform more effectively in its respective positions.

My only question is … why has it taken Google so long to set these standards and to publicize them in the first instance?

Sure, Google’s only the middleman between publishers and their viewers.  But it’s a pivotally important one.