Marketers waste £485m on unseen ads as rise of programmatic causes ad viewability to drop

Less than half (49%) of online ads served in the UK met the IAB and Media Rating Council’s recommendations – that an ad is only considered viewable if it is 50% is in view for at least one second – in the second quarter of 2015, according to a new report from Meetrics, suggesting brands could have wasted £485m on ads that weren’t seen.

The rate compares to a viewability figure of 56% for 2014. When cross-referenced with the IAB’s digital ad spend report for 2014, the study suggests brands could waste close to £485m on display ads that are not viewed by consumers if the figure remains at this low rate.

Meetrics’ director of international business Anant Joshi blamed adoption of programmatic for the falling viewing figures.

The UK viewability figure of 49% is well below Germany (64%) and France (62%) and Joshi believes the reason for this is that programmatic video ads are less common in other European markets.

A recent IAB study predicted that programmatic will account for between 70% and 80% of all online display ads by 2018.

Joshi explains: “There’s no doubt programmatic brings many benefits to advertisers but it’s certainly less transparent than buying directly and there’s also a big question mark about the quality of much of the inventory sold this way and, clearly, that most of it never ends up being seen.

“It’s vital that agencies, on behalf of their advertiser clients, demand more accountability from the vendors and middle men they are using to buy their media.”

When it comes to online ads, leaderboards were the least viewable ad format, at 40%, while billboards (68%) and skyscrapers (60%) were the most viewable.

However, although marketers might expect ads viewed for more than one second to be quickly switched off that isn’t the case.

According to the Meetrics report, of the total of 49% of online ads that met the IAB and Media Rating Council’s stipulation for at least one second to clarify for viewability, the average view time was a sizely 29.5 seconds.

Brands are increasingly calling for improved viewability figures, with Unilever’s marketing boss Keith Weed recently saying that anything less than 100% was simply not good enough. He likened it to buying a packet of 50 tea bags only to get home and find the box only contained 45 because the industry had decided on “90% delivery”.

However, the IAB says the situation is not as simplistic as that. Problems arise because marketers and publishers can measure viewability differently.

CEO Guy Phillipson believes more must be done to resolve the discrepancies between providers, while brands need to pick ad tech companies that have been verified by JICWEBS, the joint industry committee.

“Even then, each brand has its own view. How long do people need to see an ad for it to reach its objective? If it’s a teaser ad and the brand doesn’t appear until the end then they need to see the whole thing. It’s a subjective issue hence why minimum standards are needed,” he says.

In the end, he says, the issue about viewability will be solved in the same way the old conversation about serving ads has now gone. But in the meantime the IAB is gearing up to launch phase two of UK accreditation scheme.

  • Join Marketing Week and Econsultancy in London on 29 September for the second edition of Get with the Programmatic – an essential brand-led conference that promises lively debate, honest peer-to-peer learning, and content that covers the whole programmatic ecosystem. Book now.
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  • John Butcher 31 Jul 2015 at 10:55 am

    This is really interesting to find and reinforces our own research that reveals up to £23BN global marketing budgets are being wasted every year. Working with FTSE350 companies, Proxima found that companies are wasting up to 60% of annual investment due to poor commercial management of digital marketing spend.

    While 50% of total advertising budgets are spent on digital, poor commercial management means brand and commercial content is not reaching the right audience. Fraudulent and artificial web activity are to blame for the fact most online ads are not seen by a human.

    It is this which is making it difficult for companies to correlate digital marketing with business outcomes – creating a disconnect between those in marketing and those who hold a commercial perspective within the business.

    Marketers need to understand how to better buy digital marketing tools and channels, how to work with third party media networks and ultimately manage the digital marketing budget a bit better. That’s where procurement can act as an independent third-party, helping marketing with internal goal alignment and external goal setting with agencies, able to ask the tough questions or offer experience from other supplier interactions that can enhance transparency and control for the marketing team as a result.

    While there is certainly a role to play, procurement should not be involved in all facets of the company-marketing agency relationship and should steer clear of things such as development of overall marketing strategy. CMOs may find it useful to use procurement as an independent sounding board, but it should be up to each individual CMO to assess if procurement could add value in these areas (and would be considered the exception rather than the rule).

    This cross functional view will ensure that marketing budgets are being spent on delivering corporate aims, not just marketing objectives.

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