strategy

Striking the balance between innovation and performance

Shez Iqbal, Head of UK Publishers_0When creating their digital advertising strategies, today’s publishers find themselves in something of a catch-22 situation.

While new and innovative ad formats enable them to improve the user experience – which in turn reduces the need for ad blockers and boosts revenue – measurement of these non-standard formats cannot always be accurately determined using current viewability standards.

And herein lies the problem. By choosing the formats that may best deliver in terms of engagement, publishers risk poor and misrepresentative viewability rates.

So, are current viewability standards holding the industry back from innovation, and how can publishers free themselves from their current impasse?

The industry as a whole is moving towards a vCPM (cost per viewable impression) model where advertisers only pay for ads that are measured as viewable. A recent study conducted by Theorem and Sublime Skinz reveals that 56% of ads in the U.S. are already traded against a viewability metric. This is a positive trend for the industry that is helping to drive the market forward, but it does present its own set of challenges.

One of these challenges is that non-standard ad units – which might include wallpapers,  content-rich native ads, and videos – often fall outside the current standards used to measure viewability, so they are negatively affected by this move towards vCPM. While viewability is an effective metric for standard display ads, its effectiveness decreases for formats such as native and non-standard display. A publisher that responded to the study explained one possible cause saying, “We see the bigger formats falling off in terms of viewability stats because they are harder to slice up on a page.”

Ironically these non-standard ad formats are the ones most likely to perform well against brand metrics such as engagement, brand lift, brand recall, exposure, and time spent with ad, even though viewability scores are low. When ranked in terms of brand effectiveness formats such as video, homepage takeover (HPTO), and skins perform particularly well. Despite its positive aspects, the current viewability standard is clearly holding back the market from becoming more innovative and brand focused.

Three quarters (75%) of study respondents said it was important to address the issue of measuring non-standard units, and expressed a reluctance to invest in creative executions that fall outside the current standards. According to one study participant, “My fear is that innovation will be stifled if publishers are afraid of being penalised under viewability standards that aren’t yet able to properly measure non-standard ads.”    

Non-standard ads are the future of digital advertising and the inability to measure them accurately is recognised as an obstacle by the whole industry. While the responsibility for developing better standards to address all ad formats lies with trade bodies, the rest of the market including advertisers, agencies, vendors and publishers all have their part to play in driving the process. Advertisers and agencies must demand better standards, vendors must align with trade body metrics to ensure accurate reporting, and publishers must ensure their inventory is viewable as far as possible.

While new standards are being established, publishers can aim to strike a balance by delivering an innovative, engaging experience for their users while still using formats that can be measured using the current IAB standards. They can embrace innovation and creativity within the ad space that is viewable by transforming standard measurable formats into dynamic, interactive ad experiences. This could include the use of innovative formats such as skins that provide high-impact creative without intruding on the user experience.

The industry needs to come together to develop and agree new viewability standards to give publishers the freedom to explore new formats without risking their revenues. In the meantime publishers can be creative within the viewable canvas and can temporarily balance innovation with performance somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

Shez Iqbal, Head of UK Publishers, Sublime Skinz

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