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Advertisers have more and more types of online ad inventory than ever, and thanks to technologies like real-time bidding, increasingly sophisticated ways to buy them.

But for advertisers actually hoping their ads will reach consumers, there's bad news.

According to a study by AdSafe Media, just half of all online ads meet the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) proposed viewability standard that calls for 50% of an ad to be visible for at least one second.

As my colleague Heather Taylor described earlier this month, one of the guiding principles behind 3MS is that the industry should move from measuing "'served impressions' to 'viewable impressions' to prevent the over-counting of impressions."

This makes sense for advertisers, but AdSafe Media's study, which looked at impressions served in the first half of the year, suggests that publishers, ad networks and ad exchanges could have problems living up to the standard.

Those problems could be particularly acute for the latter two groups. According to AdSafe Media, well under half (41.2% and 40.3%) of ads served by networks and exchanges met the proposed viewability standard, respectively. Ads sold directly by the publisher fared a bit better, but even for publisher-sold ads, advertisers may not be thrilled with the results: little more than a fifth of these ads (21.2%) remained in-view for 15 seconds.

When ad worlds collide

And it gets worse: in approximately 7% of cases, an advertiser had two ads on the same page. As Adweek's Tim Peterson writes, "While doubling up an advertiser's presence on the page could juice the likelihood of the brand's paid media being seen...it 'represents a pretty significant loss of value' because the likelihood of a user converting drops for both."

Assuming AdSafe Media's findings are confirmed by others, it would seem that the industry has a big question to ask: why adopt a viewability standard that is apparently going to be very hard to meet?

While advertisers have a natural incentive to push for measurement metrics that ensure they're not overpaying for what's being delivered, barring some fundamental change in online ad units and how they're positioned, it's questionable as to whether those in business of selling ad inventory will be able to do much to change the viewability of the ads they sell.

Patricio Robles

Published 30 August, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Philippa Gamse

Philippa Gamse, Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School

Hi Patricio, I think that there's a very big "elephant in the room" in online ads, which you don't mention in this piece.

I'm talking about the use of ad blocking software (such as Ad Blocker Plus). I tried to get some reliable figures on usage of these for my recent book, but wasn't able to - beyond vague reports of large numbers of downloads. I do know that every time I mention ad blockers in my speaking and teaching programs, people go for them fast!

Perhaps the ad industry doesn't want to talk about this (thus my allusion to "elephants") because they don't want to emphasize to buyers that even more of their ads might be misreported or never seen.

over 3 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Group Head of Customer Insight & Analytics at Thomas Cook AirlinesEnterprise

Really interesting article. Certainly campaigns we've tracked the position of have showna very similar trend with a ridiculously high number of ads never even viewed (i.e. appearing within the viewing window) by users which does beg the question whether you would ever pay for these outside of the world of online display.

Unlike most other media (where for TV or radio you pay based on a rough indication of user volumes who will see / hear your ad), online display still gets away with the claim of serving 'impressions' and utilising these cookies to lay claim to driving indirect sales.

I think the problem is however that if some form viewability standard isn't introduced the bigegst problem is display ad spends will continue to dwindle - it isn't a case where we can put our heads in the sand!

On Patricio's comment, I'm afraid I just don't buy that. In the same way that studies have recently shown that most people who have the capacity to skip TV adverts actually don't (with less than 9% of viewing including the skipping of ads), I just don't think that ad blocking is common place because it doesn't come as standard with any browser and as such, people have to go out of their way to install them.

over 3 years ago

Peter McCormack

Peter McCormack, Founder at McCormack Morrison

More evidence to add to the argument that anyone using display as a DR channel is kidding themselves. View-through is a media buyers solution to a channel which just does not perform very well.

Anyone with an ounce of common sense does not need to read an article like this, they are already advising their clients that their spend should be directed elsewhere. Media buyers love display as they can make lots of money without doing much work.

This is why publishers are moving to new business models which support native advertising. Just take a look at the new Vogue website, they get it and they are dealing with the problem.

over 3 years ago

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Harry Smith

It seems as if the many forms of driving organic traffic, although there is more graft needed will benefit companies more than spending money on these ads that are proving to be less effective as time goes on.

over 3 years ago

Adam Tudor

Adam Tudor, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at The Black Hole

The good thing about the majority of Adblockers are that they don't call the ads or count as an impression, as the content has been blocked before any imagery, tracking pixels or otherwise are called in. They shouldn't take up valuable marketing $ but instead just increase server load.

As digital advertising becomes more advanced and measurable, I think it's past time that display should follow suit. Results including measurements such as time in view are a great starting point.

over 3 years ago

Philippa Gamse

Philippa Gamse, Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School

Adam - I'm wondering how much store should be set by time in view. For example, I play Pandora on my Kindle while I exercise. Every so often I look at the screen to change the music, but most of the time, the Kindle is on the floor, so all of the ads which are "in view" are never seen. So wouldn't time in view be a very misleading figure in many instances?

over 3 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Group Head of Customer Insight & Analytics at Thomas Cook AirlinesEnterprise

Philipps - This is very true, especially for ads where the content doesn't need to be viewed to be consumed. That's why companies like Spotify offer a combiantion of 'on air' adverts alongside display in order to increase the likelihood of a customer being properly exposured to the advert.

With most websites this is less of a problem but the issues related to multi-tabbing / leaving a page loaded behind other content is definitely applicable and as yet I haven't seen an ad tracking / visbility tracking supplier that has found a way to deal with this.

That said, is this any different to the way we measure press, TV, outdoor at the moment?

over 3 years ago

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plealsmoors

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over 3 years ago

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James

Its a fact i totally agree with that each and every Online Ad maker or Brand Advertising company should know that now a day people are looking for attractive with informative Ads. They should adopt this fact else it will happen every time.

over 3 years ago

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