Undertone Guarantees You Can See Its Ads

Bows Viewable Impressions Guarantee Program

In the digital ad world, 2013 is thought to be the year the medium finally "grows up" and publishers start only selling ads people can actually see. That is, this is supposed to be the year the industry rallies around the viewable ad impression as a standard currency.

Yet in an industry that is plagued with fragmentation, complex data and cutthroat competition, the first month of 2013 exhibited few signs that digital is gearing up for its promised viewable impression revolution. So one ad network, Undertone is looking to lead by example—while putting its money where its mouth is.

On Tuesday, Undertone will to roll out what it's calling a Viewable Impression Guarantee Program. Specifically, the company is guaranteeing that ads run through its publisher network will beat industry benchmarks for display viewability rates. Essentially, Undertone is declaring that its inventory is better than a lot of what's out there, and it's willing to give brands a refund if proven wrong.

Frustrated by inaction, Undertone co-founder Eric Franchi said the decision to step forward and offer an alternative came from a place of common sense. "The industry is taking too long and brands want solutions," he said.

To help provide the viewable metrics, Undertone is partnering with measurement companies DoubleVerify and Moat with the goal of providing a range of methodologies from which to collect the non-standardized data. Figures from the third-party companies will then be compared to Undertone's benchmark data—with Undertone on the hook to issue credits and complimentary impressions to campaigns who don't meet its viewable impressions quota.

In development for six months, Undertone took a long look at the industry, speaking with its closest clients, according to Franchi. Many were fed up with what they saw as lots of  industry posturing and little action. That sentiment helped the company make the bold choice to pioneer the practice of selling guaranteed viewable impressions.

"We saw there are just too many acronyms, too much talk and too much complexity in the market for brands. They want solutions and above all they just want to know their ads are being seen," Franchi said.

While Franchi notes that initial agency conversations have been positive, the guarantee is a risky proposition for Undertone, as viewable impressions are still a very new idea, one lacking a universal definition. While the 3MS (Making Measurement Make Sense) initiative defines a viewable impression as an ad unit that is 50 percent in view for at least one second, there remains little uniformity across the industry in collecting viewable data.

Yet Undertone feels this step is a necessary one, both for its own business and for lighting a fire under the industry. The company plans to use its new guarantee program to help its publishing partners achieve greater ad visibility on their sites throughout the year, acccording to Franchi. 

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