It’s All or Not for Online-Ad Viewability

2014 12 29   Peter Feinstein   Media and Regualtion    

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) set off an industry brouhaha in mid-December when it said that 100 percent viewability is an “unreasonable” expectation for online advertisers.

“It’s never a good idea to announce what you can’t do,” blogged P.J. Bednarski for MediaPost’s Online Video Daily. “So when the [IAB] basically admitted last week that for now, a little bit of dishonesty would have to do, you could have predicted someone would object.”

That “someone” was the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), but it is not alone. Advertisers shouldn’t be charged for anything less than 100 percent. That’s how the market is set and the value proposition is established.

The IAB’s backpedaling in the face of significant advertiser blowback is a great start – and make no mistake, it is just the beginning. Look, I know I’m no big fish in the digital pond, so I’m not deluded enough to think that my postings are difference-makers, but they add to the singular voice of disgust and revolt with the IAB and those they represent.

Ad Exchanger quoted IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg saying, “It’s time to set the record straight about what is technically and commercially feasible.”

I don’t know Rothenberg, but his comments offer insight into his fear. He’s petrified, as he should be, that many large advertisers and their agencies are questioning the commercial viability of online advertising in its present state. His knee-jerk reaction of floating the 70 percent-visibility threshold is likely a calculated move designed to quell the vast majority of the complainers. Some might say, “Yeah, that’s better.” Nonsense. It’s a red herring – nothing more than a tactic designed to move the conversation away from the central issue of value to advertisers.
I was particularly disappointed by what Kevin Scholl, digital marketing director at Red Roof Inn, said of the 70 percent idea: “Honestly, it’s better than what we’re seeing and what I expected [the IAB] come in with. For the last couple years, the thing I’ve said most about buying display is that it’s like throwing money into a dark room and hoping that somebody sees you.” It sounds like he places online advertising knowing that it’s a black hole, with only a marginal hope a having someone – anyone – see it. That’s insanity, but it shines the light on just how untenable the status quo is. It’s the model that’s been tolerated, and because there’s been no organized resistance it’s flourished.

The notion that 100 percent visibility isn’t feasible is absurd, but Rothenberg and his minions offer all kinds of excuses, from format and device differences, to … actually it doesn’t matter. The fact is, there is only a very small piece of real estate involved in measurement of any online ad: the device screen being used. An ad is completely visible or it’s not. If it’s not, the advertiser shouldn’t be charged. Period. All the other blather being offered up – technical and business reasons for needing to “talk about it” – is nothing more than rationalization meant to try and shift the conversation from accountability to almost anything else.

That didn’t fool anyone.

Pressure will mount until something breaks. My prediction is that before the end of 2015, online advertising will begin to be judged more the way offline advertising is: an impression is a fully viewed ad.

IAB supporters assert that offline advertising, particularly on television, isn’t really 100 percent viewable – that people leave the room or are otherwise distracted during a commercial. That logic is both faulty and incorrect. There is no such standard for TV. Here’s the deal: Online, only 100 percent visibility is payable. Everything else is just garbage.

One other thing about online video: Autoplay constitutes nothing. If the consumer doesn’t click to watch, it’s not an impression. Autoplays must go away, and they will. Genuine value online is generated only when the consumer is actively engaged.

The people at the IAB and their ilk just don’t understand that they’ve created the lack of value in their medium. They will be held accountable for its performance or lack thereof as sellers/sites that can’t manage visibility and prevent fraud on their platforms lose advertisers, or price themselves out of the market based upon arcane, value-deficient models.