Viewability: How to Act on This Gift to Advertisers and Return to Advertising Transparency

Viewability and engagement signals provide advertisers with the right tools to measure ad effectiveness and to determine whether or not they’re spending their media dollars effectively. Two of the most powerful signals for determining effectiveness include viewability and, of course, engagement.

Smart advertisers need the right tools to measure ad effectiveness and to determine whether or not they spent their media dollars effectively. Two of the most powerful signals for determining effectiveness include viewability, which launched onto the digital scene in 2014 and, of course, engagement (clickthroughs, time-on-site, shares, likes, follows, etc.). But how should advertisers interpret and act on these signals? And when, if ever, do these metrics overlap with each other, when it comes to buying and optimizing media?

Depending on the advertiser’s objective with a given media initiative, the answers will become far clearer.

Determine Strategic Objectives

The fact is, engagement signals should be leveraged differently and at various times, based on overarching strategic objectives. For example, advertising initiatives designed to foster product or service evaluation may rely on clickthroughs and time-on-site as measurements of ad effectiveness, out of necessity. Because of the targeted nature of the initiative that aims to elicit a response, engagement signals make sense. Optimizing for high-engagement ads, while buying viewable impressions, will likely result in a more qualified audience … at a price that may, or may not, be worth it. The advertiser simply must decide what makes economic sense on a case-by-case basis.

If an advertiser wants to drive inspiration and consideration among potential customers, then getting in front of as many viewers with whom the advertiser’s product or service could resonate becomes the primary objective. In this case, engagement metrics may fall short, as would cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) since an impression, whether viewable or not, gets factored into that calculation. Relying solely on CPM gives only a partial indication of the effectiveness of the ad spend and no indication of the ad effectiveness, whatsoever. Enter viewability.

The Importance of Measuring Viewability

While still an imperfect measurement of ad effectiveness, viewability gives advertisers the option of only paying for impressions that were, in fact, “viewable.” While there has been some ambiguity around what qualifies as “viewable,” the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Center (MRC) have made strides in standardizing the industry’s definition (opens as a PDF) of “viewable.” According to its definition, an ad is only viewable if “a minimum of 50% of the ad is rendered on a user’s browser for a minimum of one second for display ads and two seconds for video ads.”

This improved transparency and common benchmark is critical, in order to continue growing upper-funnel channels and tactics by restoring advertiser faith in the impressions reported. By differentiating between impressions-served and impressions-viewed, advertisers at least have the choice to optimize toward impressions-viewed (at a higher CPM) vs. the opaque alternative.

Viewability Tools for Publishers

Now, even Google’s instituted a “viewability” signal for publishers in its Ad Exchange called “Active View.” Accredited by the MRC, Active View measures impressions generated across publishers’ websites and apps in real-time. Because advertisers increasingly opt to buy viewable impressions, Active View provides publishers with the information they need to increase the value of their display inventory, over time. Publishers with the most viewable inventory will benefit from this buying trend.

Viewability Is Long Overdue

It’s safe to say that viewability is critical and long overdue. It does not, nor should it, devalue engagement metrics. Viewability and engagement metrics can be leveraged simultaneously or irrespectively. Again, it’s important to consider what the advertiser aims to achieve and understand the broader shift in transparency viewability offers.

In full disclosure, I was reared as a direct response marketer, so I am naturally inclined to lean on engagement signals as measurements of ad effectiveness. However, the reflex to solely rely on these metrics can be myopic. If you, too, classify yourself as a direct response marketer, performance marketer or any other flashy way to describe advertisers who care about the bottom line, then I challenge you to question what those lexicons really mean.

Be on the lookout for viewability buzz to continue gaining steam and momentum. This data signal offers much more than a simplistic measurement of ad effectiveness. It provides a return to advertising transparency that has been long under siege in the world of display. It’s a positive step and has its place in enhancing the way we think about buying media.

‘Programmatic’ Goes the World – Media Buying Is Audience Buying

Direct marketers have long had a love affair with data-driven media buying. In the world of direct mail, for example, list rentals and exchanges are filled with data cards (once print, now electronic) rich with audience measurements—the very attributes marketers need to intelligently target their offers to would-be buyers.

Direct marketers have long had a love affair with data-driven media buying. In the world of direct mail, for example, list rentals and exchanges are filled with data cards (once print, now electronic) rich with audience measurements—the very attributes marketers need to intelligently target their offers to would-be buyers.

Response lists not only indicate consumers (and business) buyers who are pre-disposed to buy remotely—half the hurdle overcome—but often household income ranges, gender and other characteristics that enable exceptionally performing customer lookalike and predictive behavior models. Compiled lists supplement and enhance the audience profiles, too. Yes, the offer, strategy and creative each and all are vital, but it’s the list (the data) that makes the success of the offer, strategy and creative even possible.

Of course, this is all old news to direct marketers, including digital marketers who have “grown up” in traditional direct-response channels (direct mail, DR print, DRTV, etc.).

You have to love this LinkedIn piece from Pamela Carr—founder and general manager, Chicago Trib Shops Marketplace—who is advocating that while it is important to have long-term strategies in place to college educate a new generation of marketing students in digital marketing and execution. We have much more to gain, and more immediately so, by retraining the direct marketing professionals we already have to be fully digitally conversant. Why? Because direct marketers, old ones and new ones, truly understand data-driven marketing and audience measurements that unlock any media channel’s potential.

The turn to digital and rise of programmatic media buying exchanges for many media channels. Twice during the past year, The Winterberry Group and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have co-published two white papers on the rise of data-driven, programmatic buying: “Programmatic Everywhere: Data, Technology and the Future of Audience Engagement” and “Going Global: Programmatic Audience Development Around the World.” How wise that the emphases in these programmatic studies are on “audience” engagement—underlying data on audiences—rather than “media.” No wonder Google’s CMO recently announced that 60 percent of its digital media spend will be conducted through programmatic buying. (Google says digital here, but why not other media, too?)

I’ll be looking forward to The Winterberry Group’s Bruce Biegel, in his annual address to the Direct Marketing Club of New York on January 8, where he’ll detail a media recap of 2014—and for the first time projections for 2015—on total media spend, direct marketing media spend, and digital media spend—and the drivers (and inhibitors) of each category.

Who better knows audience engagement than traditional direct marketers? The sooner we can put direct marketers in charge of the programmatic exchanges, the better for all of advertising—and for the audience-brand interactions that will surely follow. Time for retraining!

Judging the 2013 ECHOs: A View of Data-Driven Marketing’s Best

Two weeks back, I had the opportunity to judge Rounds 1 and 2 of the ECHOs this year—and while sworn confidentiality requires me to remain mum on actual campaigns I encountered there, I want to comment on the value of judging itself, from my perspective as a public relations practitioner in our field. The ECHOs have been around a long time—since 1929 to be exact. But what really makes me excited to see the campaigns as a judge each year, is that they represent agencies’ and brands’ self-selected choices on what they consider to be award-winning and innovative work

This past year, I had the honor of joining the Direct Marketing Association’s Board of Governors for the International ECHO Awards. That’s my disclaimer.

Two weeks back, I had the opportunity to judge Rounds 1 and 2 of the ECHOs this year—and while sworn confidentiality requires me to remain mum on actual campaigns I encountered there, I want to comment on the value of judging itself, from my perspective as a public relations practitioner in our field.

The ECHOs have been around a long time—since 1929 to be exact. But what really makes me excited to see the campaigns as a judge each year, is that they represent agencies’ and brands’ self-selected choices on what they consider to be award-winning and innovative work based on the three criteria: marketing strategy, creative and results in equal parts. 2013 is no exception. The honors—which will be announced on October 15 in Chicago—will be the world’s best in data-driven marketing. (Breaking News—comedian Jake Johanssen will be this year’s host.)

There are no longer media categories among the entrants—a reflection of how marketing has converged. Instead, channels serve as brand engagement vehicles, and what matters most is their effectiveness in design, dialogue and generating responses to calls for action—from leads, to sales, to audience engagement on a measured scale. So a direct mail piece that is entered may exist (and be judged) alongside entries that represent Web sites, search campaigns, mobile apps, call center efforts, or—most often—integrated marketing campaigns. Again what matters—and only matters—are the strategy, creative and engagement metrics that define marketing effectiveness. Both consumer and business-to-business markets are incorporated.

The categories where entrants are recognized are by industry—15 altogether. You can review the list here.

This is what being an ECHO judge tells me every year:

  1. How are brands and their agencies measuring effectiveness in data-driven marketing? What metrics have they chosen to index or communicate? How is marketing return on investment conveyed? Increasingly, marketing dashboards appear to be in use—with relevant components part of the external results story.
  2. What creative trends are in play? What constitutes break-through creative? What is the unusual and innovative? Where has risk been met with reward? And who (clients and agencies) are being the most courageous worldwide—while also being effective?
  3. How are data being collected, analyzed and—in some cases—visualized? While the entry forms this year were streamlined and don’t have as much budget information in the past—this really has served to heighten visibility on the data, analysis and segmentation techniques being deployed in the strategy.
  4. What is state-of-the-art in data-driven marketing on a global scale? This year, as always, entries were submitted through various partners and submitted to early judging in Denmark, Australia and the United States, comprising dozens of countries in nearly all continents. It is great to see how globally data-driven marketing is practiced—and the creative genius and extraordinary results achieved in both mature and less mature markets.
  5. Finally, judging happens on an individual basis—as a judge you evaluate a campaign, providing your own perspective. But the judging is a collective one—bringing together experienced peers from all over the nation and world. Once the entries and judging scores are in, we do tend to share with each other our impressions of the experience in the aggregate—and meet great people in the process.

In brief, the ECHOs are an idea store for marketing strategists, creative professionals—and the PR folks like me who support my clients in entering awards. I’ve learned not just about how to create great marketing—but how to tell the story behind great marketing. Both count when it comes to crafting an award entry that wins.

You can find out who the winners are firsthand by attending DMA2013 in Chicago, USA, this year (October 12-17, 2013). Make sure to indicate in your registration for a ticket to the ECHO Awards Gala where a separate registration is required: http://dma13.org/registration/

Come October, I’ll definitely be sharing in this blog snippets from some of my favorite campaigns this year!