Industry Effort to Improve Web Ad Metrics Goes Nowhere

Lots of debate, little action

Is the viewable impression going nowhere fast? A full two years after the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Association of National Advertisers and the 4A’s launched Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS), a cross-industry effort to improve Web ad metrics, and a year after viewability took center stage at the IAB’s annual meeting, the movement seems to be running in place. Instead of rallying around a new ad currency, questions continue to arise over the most practical of issues, such as how to measure, implement and enforce viewable impressions—and whether the whole conversation is even worthwhile.

“There’s widespread recognition we have a long way to go in creating an industry standard so all vendors can calculate the same metric,” said Turn's svp of product management, Joshua Koran, who is on the IAB’s Ad Technology Council and co-chairs its viewability subcommittee.

Take The Weather Company. Chief global revenue officer Curt Hecht told his team to find every reputable company that measures viewable impressions. Of the nine companies they examined, how many cracked the problem? “Nobody,” said Hecht. Not only was there a big drop-off between the best and worst, but also “some companies you hear referred to as the standard shouldn’t be the standard,” he said, declining to name names.

Amit Seth, Nielsen’s evp of global media products, cited two reasons the viewability movement has stalled. “There’s no direct way by which we know for a fact the ads are viewed,” he said. The other reason is “if an ad is not viewable, the onus falls on the ad-serving entity not to show it.” That means money being left on the table.

Others have prescribed exclusively shifting those out-of-view ads to a click-based pricing model, which limits success to whether an ad worked while big brand marketers really just want their ad to be seen. “I like the idea of if you convert inventory into [cost-per-click], then that solves it, but I don’t believe CPC is a good metric for Internet advertising,” Seth said.

Then there’s the question of how big an industry issue viewability really is. Jivox founder and CEO Diaz Nesamoney thinks it may be just another way to differentiate in a crowded digital space. “At the end of the day, buyers aren’t stupid,” he said. “Prices correlate to the performance you’re getting. If you say, ‘We’re going to guarantee these viewable impressions,’ maybe that gets agencies to buy from them. I think it’s a good marketing technique, but it is going to cost more.”

At this year’s IAB confab last week, discussion of the topic was intense but largely unfocused as ad executives got mired in the details of how viewability would affect things like Web design and RTB (real-time bidding) functionality rather than implementation. “It’s indicative of the industry where most people are debating against each other rather than going out in the marketplace and taking a leadership position,” Undertone co-founder Eric Franchi said.

Still, outgoing IAB chairman Peter Naylor, evp of ad sales for NBC News digital, remains determined to achieve an industry standard. “This is unprecedented cooperation,” he said. “It will take time. But with these players aligned, we will get there. Vendors are proposing solutions to the market, for sure, ahead of 3MS resolutions … and all voices are being heard in what is globally the creation of currency for a market that is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.” 

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