The Ad's Not Viewable If It's Blocked: Richer Media Leaves Advertisers and Consumers Poorer

May 8, 2017

By Victor Wong


The call for viewability has never been greater.

Oracle has just spent a rumored $800 million for Moat, a leader in viewability technology, propelling this measurement capability into the big leagues for marketing technology. Moat's acquisition reinforces the need by marketers to ensure their ads are actually seen. The promise of viewability is to tell advertisers where half their budget may be wasted on unseen ads. While the idea of encouraging ads to be within view to count may seem inarguably good, there has been a hidden and looming downside that advertisers are just beginning to realize.

Where there are incentives, behavior will change. Publishers and the broader advertising ecosystem is no different. Publishers are now incentivized to sell ad units that are immediately within view and stay within view long enough to be counted as viewable. That's great!

What's bad is the easiest way to achieve this is to sell larger and more intrusive ad units. Publishers can sell takeovers, expandable ads, and interstitials that consumers hate but viewability metrics love because they force the ad to be seen. Enforced viewability comes at the cost of blocking the consumer's experience — the reason for being there in the first place.

Publishers also aren't incentivized to build more mobile-friendly web designs for consumer experiences. Tiny, short ads that are the width of the phone often fit best into mobile site and app designs. Those same tiny ads are easily scrolled past before they are properly in view. It's harder to drop a tall, vertical ad unit that is more likely to stay in view during scrolling. Some publishers make the mobile banners stick to the bottom of the screen — basically a pop-up ad.

The result of these incentives is an encouragement of ad units which annoy consumers more than anything else. This in turn leads to a rise of the thing advertisers hate more than their ad money being wasted on an ad not seen. Now it's being wasted on ads being purposefully blocked, and their reach is drying up! (Ad blocker usage jumped 30% last year.)

National bodies of advertisers like the Coalition for Better Ads, a group headlined by Procter & Gamble as well as Google, have released a study and new standard advocating less of these intrusive units to combat ad blocking. Consumers have spoken. If they're going to see ads, they don't want to see these rich media ad units that load slowly and block their content. It's too disruptive. What is good for the consumer experience will be what's good for the advertiser in the long run.

So what can advertisers do then to encourage viewability but not discourage consumers? Well the other half of being viewable — aside from being within view — is rendering an ad quickly enough that it appears in time to be viewed. Per the Media Rating Council, the ad industry's overseer of research methodology, ads on average take 5 seconds to load on mobile and 2.5 seconds on desktop. If the measurement of viewability is 1 second fully rendered, you can see the problem for both the advertiser and the consumer. Advertisers are already facing an uphill battle when they get a good ad placement to have their ad even fully appearing in time as a user scrolls. Consumers are seeing their browsing experience suffer and slow.

Metrics providers are beginning to tune into this problem and we should start seeing additional metrics related to time until render and other similar data. Creative technology providers are now focusing on file compression and ad speed with pressing urgency now to go beyond even publisher requirements because file size directly impacts viewability. Lightweight ads are better for the consumer experience — and their data plan! — plus they're more viewable.

The nation's largest advertisers need to play their part by setting and abiding by a higher standard for viewability and creatives. Shoving ads further in front of our faces does not solve viewability. Focusing on leaner ads that consumers don't find intrusive does, in part.

Viewability monitoring can solve the perennial complaint that advertisers waste half their money but they just don't know which half. But it won't matter to know which half if consumers block both halves soon enough.


Victor Wong is the CEO of Thunder (@MakeThunder), a creative management platform.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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