Leave it to comScore to summarize one of the hottest topics at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Annual Leadership Meeting. The research giant's CEO Dr. Magid Abraham stressed to attendees on Tuesday that the unlimited number of display ad impressions served hurts the economics of advertising.
"The solution is to introduce digital scarcity to the system," he said. In order to achieve digital scarcity, Abraham said, companies should "only count impressions that reach a real user and have a chance to make an impact."
He then outlined four criteria to ensure an ad meets that standard: that the ad is not fraudulent, that it's displayed in a brand-safe environment, that it's delivered in its target geography and that impressions are only counted when the ad is in view. That last criterion hit on a nerve that has been pulsing in online advertising circles for months, spurred by the IAB's "Making Measurement Make Sense" initiative.
That effort's first stated principle calls for a transition from counting served impressions in favor of counting viewable impressions. Why pay for the ads trolling the bottom of a Web page if consumers never scroll down to see them, goes the line of thinking. "There are more impressions than will ever be budgeted," said Andrew Casale, vp of strategy at ad network Casale Media. However one obstacle could be the very companies that the IAB represents.
It's worth noting that MSNBC.com has been pushing the viewable impressions concept for well over a year. In September of 2010 the company revamped its site while rolling out Serveview, a new technology designed to deliver and charge advertisers only for ads that are visible at a given time. Few publishers initially followed suit, though the rest of Microsoft's properties are strarting to come on board.
For viewable impressions to become a new standard, Casale said, publishers need to agree to cut their available inventory. That will be a tough sell. "To go to publishers and say, 'We need you to cut your inventory in half' when they are not selling out today [but] in hopes that they'll now sell out is just reverse intuitive," he said. "That's going to be the biggest challenge." Casale said it could take years for the viewable impressions movement to achieve widespread adoption by publishers "just because it's really hard to walk to one of these entities who don't feel they're getting their share of digital dollars" and ask them to reduce monetization opportunities.
Despite all that, Casale is a champion of viewable impressions. "Less is more even in the [real-time bidding] exchange ecosystem because we have too much right now, so we have to cut away and something like a viewable impression really speaks to that," he said.