Do marketers really need 100% viewability for digital ads?

Twitter has introduced a new lower standard for the viewability of digital ads on its platform following requests from advertisers. The move comes despite widespread industry calls for 100% viewability and raises questions over it is really as effective as some marketers think.

When Twitter launched its viewability promise last year it was vehement in its stance on what should be considered a view. The Media Ratings Council (MRC) standard is that digital ads should be 50% in view for 2 seconds otherwise advertisers will not be charged.

Twitter promised more. It said ads on its website and apps should be 100% in view for at least three seconds. Writing in a blog post at the time, Twitter’s senior product manager David Regon said: “We’re putting this standard of 100% viewability in place because we think it’s simply the right thing to do. If a video is not 100% in-view, we don’t think an advertiser should be charged.”

Yet fast forward less than a year and Twitter will be charging for ads that are less than 100% in-view. It is keeping its 100% viewability metric, but in addition adding an option that allows brands to buy advertising based on the MRC standard.

It might seem like an abrupt change of strategy. Twitter had prided itself on offering industry beating viewability and assumed it would be a draw for advertisers. It is still recommending to clients that they buy this way. But it has had to introduce the new metric after feedback from multiple clients.

That would seem at odds with the prevailing view on viewability. Twitter’s initial stand was broadly welcomed by the industry. Many marketers have been calling for better viewability, among them Unilever CMO Keith Weed who said last year he is “very clear” that ads should be 100% viewable.

Yet it seems 100% viewability is not always the answer and there are circumstances where it does not make sense – either financially or practically.

Mark Finney, director of media and advertising at ISBA, explains: “[100% viewability] could actually harm the effectiveness of campaigns and lead to a significant increase in CPMs. Lower viewability targets may make more sense, especially for larger formats.”

The main concern among advertisers seems to be, as Finney suggests, price. A higher viewability metric is harder to achieve, driving up cost. It also led to questions over the effectiveness of advertising on Twitter. The platform’s forward-thinking on viewability may actually in the end have been a hindrance because marketers simply compared across platforms. With other social networks, such as Facebook, offering more reach for less money due to lower viewability standards it made Twitter look expensive.

“There is an assumption Twitter has done this because many advertisers were put off by the cost per view (CPV).

Stuart McLennan, head of biddable activation, iProspect

“They have lowered the standard so that when an advertiser views the CPV versus Facebook it looks a lot more competitive,” speculates Stuart McLennan, head of biddable activation, iProspect.

McLennan says he will be advising clients to use the MRC standard on Twitter. Yet he cautions that brands must start developing content for social networks with the assumption that most people will only see the first two or three seconds, rather than repurposing TV spots.

“TV is designed and built in a very different way to social and on social that doesn’t work, marketers have one second to capture attention otherwise they will miss out on the brand uplift,” he says.

Ultimately, brands have to decide what their campaign objective is. If it is awareness and reach then Twitter’s new viewability option is the right one. But if they are looking to create engaging content that resonates with a specific audience the old metric may be better.

Michael Brunt, CMO of circulation at The Economist, says he has found that when buying ads that aim to get people to visit the website a viewability metric “provides no benefit”. Yet ads that aim to convert visitors to subscribers do benefit.

“It makes sense that you buy an impression expecting to be seen and you only pay if someone scrolls and sees it. But for the majority of our audience development activity we don’t buy on a viewability basis. We don’t find it helps. But on a conversion we do,” he explains.

Yet he admits that many marketers struggle to understand the complexities of digital advertising and need further education. This, says ISBA’s Finney, is where marketers must step up.

“It is up to advertisers to equip themselves with the knowledge to have a proper discussion with their agencies before setting viewability targets. The targets should be set according to the objectives of the campaign in question and may be different for types of site, device and platform,” says Finney.

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