No matter how much time an advertiser, or their agency, spends crafting a digital media plan, there is no guarantee that the ads will be seen by the intended audience in the intended environment. The complex world of online advertising means brands have to work hard to help ensure viewability and brand safety for all of their campaigns.
What are viewability and brand safety?
Viewability tracks how often an ad is seen versus how often it is served. There is not yet a universal standard for measuring viewability in the online space.
Brand safety captures the expectation that an ad is served in an environment that fits the brand’s standards and is free from fraud.
Online ads are unviewable or brand unsafe for two main reasons:
- The ad was served when the Web page loaded, but it was “below the scroll.” The user never scrolled down to pull the ad into view.
- The ad was served in an unsafe or fraudulent environment, which may include:
- Improper content,
- Fake content meant to inflate ad selling numbers by fraud practitioners,
- Fake ad loads that are served underneath other ads or content, or off the screen.
Many advertisers are not always aware of how the online advertising space is being operationalized. Standard practice for many agencies is to daisy-chain buys together (hire people, who hire other people, who then hire other people to place a buy).
This happens to the point where the buying and management of ad buys get so far away from the agency talking directly to the clients that there is either a breakdown in communication as to what the standards were in the first place, or there is a lack of accountability.
Which is the bigger problem?
Between viewability and brand safety, the larger problem — by a landslide — is viewability. It impacts 30 percent of campaign impressions on average, according to comScore’s analysis of 1.8 billion impressions measured across leading online advertisers.
Video viewability has the potential to be an even greater challenge. Along with the complexity of the display space, verifying video includes a host of additional measurement challenges (such as player type, player size, auto-start versus user-initiated, etc.). Partly because of this complexity, average video viewability measures around 30 percent for exchange inventory and 50 percent for publisher-direct inventory.
What should marketers do?
As with all advertising, there are no universal guarantees. Marketers need to take a proactive approach in the way they buy and steward online ad campaigns. In doing so, they can dramatically improve the percentage of impressions that are viewable and brand safe. Here are three areas they should consider.
1. Block lists: When buying inventory via ad exchanges, marketers should maintain a universal block list that includes sites with known issues around viewability or brand safety. These sites are then excluded from all buys. The block list is managed by the marketer — and by the entire digital advertising industry. A host of ad buyers and client campaigns across the industry regularly provide updated sites to the block list so that all advertisers can avoid these sites moving forward.
2. Technology partners: Often referred to as “verification” partners, most solutions these days actually go beyond verification services and into active avoidance. They are key in monitoring and avoiding unviewable or unsafe environments. All of these partners report either viewability metrics or brand safety metrics down to the site level. Any sites with active issues can then be acted upon accordingly.
3. Active campaign management: Regardless of campaign objective, the most important level of defense is the human expertise that deploys, monitors and oversees campaign setup, block lists and technology partners.
Despite how technology-powered the online landscape may be, people still play a critical role in mitigating brand risk. Combined with regularly updated block lists and partnerships with accredited technology partners, marketers substantially improve their odds of viewability and brand safety.