They say impressions count, but does this tell the whole story in digital advertising?
When I was growing up my mother always used to annoyingly tell me how much impressions count when you meet someone. She usually said this while raising an eyebrow at the particular ‘look’ I was going for fashion-wise at the time, or registering her disapproval of my latest piercing.
Was she right? Well, I‘ll admit she could be occasionally. But recently, social media and search advertising Goliaths, Facebook and Google, have both been in the news for all their own impressions. Or more accurately, for erroneously reporting video and display ad impression metrics for clients.
It was embarrassing for Facebook to admit to inflating average video watch time on its platform, but its turned out to not be a big enough issue for publishers and advertisers to reconsider or pull back their investments on the platform. However, The Media Ratings Council (MRC), which provides an accreditation service for advertisers to verify ad impressions, has actually suspended Google DoubleClick for Publishers over “mobile web Served Impressions and DFP Active View desktop viewability related statistics” until non-compliance issues are resolved. The problem emerged because the MRC reformed its guidelines on how digital media companies should count mobile web and app impressions.
An impressive industry?
Served impressions have been the baseline metric for both pricing and measuring digital advertising for more than two decades now. It has shaped digital media in a big way, but the history of ever-decreasing CPMs for display ads meant that publishers had to achieve massive scale to deliver enough impressions to make money from digital. Of course this led to creating clickbait, slideshows, un-skippable pre-roll video ads, and other content that was hard to avoid and usually poor quality.
Consequently, as impressions continued to lose value advertisers began asking questions about the quality and efficacy of served impressions: How many real, live humans were on the other side of all those impressions being served? And were those ads being served to them on-screen long enough for them to take notice?
Attention and engagement are even scarcer on mobile devices, given that the bulk of mobile time is spent using apps and two companies—Facebook and Google—hold eight of the top spots among the top 15 smartphone apps in the US, per June 2016 comScore Mobile Metrix data.
Stand to attention
Facebook is dominating the digital ad market right now. Some estimates have 85 percent of new digital ad spending going to Facebook and Google. However, with great power comes great expectations and the changes made by Facebook can have seismic effects on how marketers operate.
By miscounting average watch time, Facebook essentially said that people aren’t watching as much video as it originally claimed. For Facebook, which has made video a top priority of its business going forward, this is bad. For advertisers that might have made high-level budgeting and spending decisions based on the average total watch time metric, it’s alarming.
Multiple agencies including Blis’ client, GroupM, have said the problem hasn’t affected pricing or audience deliveries for campaigns on Facebook. GroupM described it “careless and unfortunate”. But this is primarily because agencies don’t use average watch time to buy video on Facebook; instead, they use performance metrics like impressions, 10-second views and completed views — none of which were affected by Facebook’s error. GroupM also has used Moat to verify its Facebook video campaigns and in a statement said it’s “had a clear sense of the short duration times since implementing” Moat.
Blis is working with partners to guarantee minimum viewability standards for our clients. In June we announced a partnership with leading global analytics company Moat to provide ad viewability and attention metrics within Prime – our Private Market Place – to provide clients with assurance that their ads are being viewed correctly in the right places, at the right times and by human eyes.
“As consumers increasingly move towards mobile-first, location data is a powerful asset for marketers seeking the right time to reach their audiences,” said Jonah Goodhart, CEO and co-founder of Moat. “We are excited to work with Blis to provide even more insight into how those audiences pay attention to ads online.”
Blis is deepening its relationships with third party, independent ad verification companies, like Moat and others, in order to provide guidance and assurance to our clients on viewability and impression metrics across the millions of publisher sites and apps we advertise on.
The problem with walled gardens
Facebook is mostly a closed network and because of its size and influence, it has largely been able to ignore calls by the publishing and advertising communities to accept third-party measurement and verification within their walled gardens. Publishers and advertisers want universal third-party measurement, which they could not only trust but also use to compare performance across multiple platforms.
How likely that is to happen is ultimately up to Facebook, Google and the other walled gardens in digital media. Time will tell but I seriously wouldn’t hold your breath on this.
We will be returning to this issue over the coming weeks and months. Blis believe it’s important to look at other ways of measuring campaign effectiveness, for example footfall uplift analysis, and attention and brand engagement studies. We regard the challenges around viewability as an opportunity to “out-innovate” Google and Facebook and our competitors.
One of the ways we are doing this is through Brand-lift studies which are the main way publishers and tech companies like Blis, can seek to prove the value and effectiveness of time- and engagement-based currencies to agencies and brands. Consequently, we will be releasing a White Paper within the next few weeks in association with our partner On Device Research which looks at the effectiveness of mobile campaigns in driving footfall, and how using location in advertising helps build brands.
So stay tuned, but if you have any questions in the meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Tags: Andrew Darling, digital advertising, Facebook, Google, Group M, Impressions, Moat, MRC