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May 16, 2016

There's a lot of hullabaloo about viewability in online advertising right now.

As Adweek notes, the Media Rating Council proposed viewability standards for mobile this spring, with a comments period that ended April 30. These proposed standards basically mirrored desktop viewability standards, according to Ad Age: Ads should be considered viewable if at least 50 percent of pixels are in the user's view for at least one second for display formats, or two seconds for video ads. The one caveat is that in-feed formats (which require additional study) may be "viewable" after a shorter time period—perhaps even 50 percent shorter than other formats.

The proposed desktop viewability standards have been controversial with the buying side of the industry: marketers and agencies. They complain that the standards are too lenient to have an impact—a response I'm sure will be echoed for the proposed mobile standards, too.

As a mobile-only publisher with ad formats that are exclusive and native (our ads mark places on the map during the course of a user's drive), we've been debating what it means to be "viewable," so that we can ensure we're meeting advertisers' expectations. As such, it's key to recognize that the viewability discussion is conflating two different topics.

1. Buying Currency
If we're simply looking for a common buying/selling currency (akin to GRPs or CPMs), that's easy. As a publisher, we can count ads only when they are fully displayed into a user's experience, and when more than 50% of the pixels are in view (we do both of these things now).

2. Effectiveness
This is where things get tricky. Simply saying that ad impressions are viewable means nothing about their effectiveness. In fact, Goodway Group recently released a whitepaper analyzing more than a billion impressions to determine if there was any link between their viewability status and campaign performance. They found that "viewability's lift on performance cannot be compared with other dimensions' lift, such as behavioral data or site/context. Viewability is instead foundational to enabling all other performance to catalyze a campaign."

Luckily, the Media Rating Council (and key partners such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Association of National Advertisers) has defended the proposed standards as defining only an "opportunity to see," and not any level of effectiveness.

This puts the onus on the publishing side of the industry, not just to be prepared to support the new viewable impressions' buying "currency," but also to help advance our industry understanding of effectiveness—and whether or not the two should be related.

Just as we're all debating whether the "opportunity to see" is standard across mobile experiences—especially after the acknowledgment that newsfeed ads may be different—we also need to be able to debate the unique metrics that help define effectiveness.

Graphic ad experiences on mobile (let's ignore other types, such as audio, for now) are embedded in environments as varied as gaming, running, and (of course), driving. Some are lean-in, while others are passive, and some are experienced close-up, while others are at arm's length. To posit that we interpret information at the same speed across experiences seems a bit ridiculous. Perhaps a split-second view of a brand message within a newsfeed is truly enough to convey a strong marketing message, but a lengthy video slot playing a poor piece of video creative within a streaming app won't capture a user's attention.

At Waze, we believe business markers on maps should be ever-present, marking the location of a business. We're working closely with our advertising partners to bring them unique metrics that will show the value of these ad placements (navigation lift, reach within a geographic area) that aren't able to be standardized, and have nothing to do with whether or not the ads were in view for a certain amount of time.

It's up to savvy and detail-oriented marketers and their agencies to work closely with publishers in the mobile space to clearly define where viewable currency ends and effectiveness measures begin.
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