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How should advertisers meet the challenges of viewability of digital ads ?

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How should advertisers meet the challenges of  viewability of digital ads ?

Google opened a Pandora’s Box last December, when it reported that 56.1 per cent of ads on its network were never seen by audiences. Digital advertising, for so long considered the most effective and measurable of all mediums, has since come under the scanner. 

56.1% of online ads are not seen, says Google

It should perhaps not come as a surprise that this is the case; after all, advertising, on any medium, has always had to contend with engaging a user’s interest while not intruding on their privacy. 

Viewability in display advertising gains prominence among advertisers

To add to these woes comes the ad blocker. Just this year, Apple created a bit of a stir when it announced that it would be adding an optional ad blocking feature to its new version of iOS. A report by Affle suggests that publishers are likely to lose $21.8 billion in 2015 and this figure might almost double to more than $41 billion by 2016 due to ad blockers.

Should digital marketers be wary of Apple's new ad blocker? 

So what does an advertiser do? Create better ads? But that is easier said than done. 

“Increasing views cannot always be the sole or primary objective for any advertiser or brand. It is critical to find the right balance between addressing the correct audience segment, providing a positive user-experience and enabling high audience-engagement to ensure great return on investment,” says Ankit Rawal, GM (India) at InMobi.

There are two ways of approaching it; on the one hand, advertisers need to concentrate on better creatives and ad formats that focus on engagement and user permission. The other part is more of an industry issue and for this both the brand and the media agencies will need to change the way they buy and sell ads. Work on this front has already started.

Google announced this October that the entire Google Display Network (GDN) would be transitioning to a viewability-based model. InMobi, which claims to be the largest independent mobile advertising platform, said, in November, that it will guarantee all of its in-app mobile ad campaigns are completely viewable. This means users only pay for ads that are deemed “viewed”. According to Media Ratings Council (MRC) guidelines, an ad is considered viewed 50 per cent or more of it appears on the screen for at least one second, while a video ad is deemed viewable if it appears for at least 2 seconds.

Pay only if visitors see your ads, promises Google

“Banner blindness is a real epidemic killing millions in ad budgets every year. Display advertising on mobile is plagued with problems—people ignore them, more than half of them are not viewable, more than half of the clicks are accidental and, most importantly, they are devoid of storytelling. It needs to be looked at with a fresh pair of lenses,” said Lavin Punjabi, President, Affinity.

Other agencies have also been pledging to bill for viewable ads ever since the MRC announced its interim guideline on mobile viewability measurement earlier this year. This, of course, does not guarantee that all ads served on these networks will be viewable, but it means that they will only charge clients for ads that have been deemed viewable.

The real issue though is that many viewers actually ignore ads as the ad fails to capture their interest and to solve this requires brands to start becoming innovative. 

“Marketers and brands, today, need to be far more innovative and deterministic while devising their marketing strategies – especially for mobile. Mobile advertising is like a power-tool box with multiple tools; it is up to marketers to pick the right tools to integrate machine learning and design, to deliver engaging, and user-relevant ads in real time, with the right messaging and creatives that work,” said Rawal.

Affinity recently released a new ad format for mobile called M-Canvas, that Punjabi says was specifically designed to address the shortcoming of standard display inventory. M-Canvas is user initiated and appears only when the user is engaging with the relevant content. The format consists of two pieces; a small initiator which, on the user clicking it, leads to a full screen rich media experience

Punjabi told us that clients have noticed 4-8 per cent intentional engagement rate with 18-27 seconds time spent on the ‘Impactor’ (the actual rich media ad).


Other companies are also coming out with innovative solutions to actually get people to engage with ads. To take an example, Mumbai-based M-adCall, is a mobile advertising company that grants users reward points for viewing ads which can then be redeemed for discounts or gifts. A similar system is quite popular with in-app advertising in a number of mobile games like Rovio’s Angry Birds.

“Newer formats should be an ongoing endeavor for all publishers. Going native is one example of this. But improving quality of creatives is another very important route where publishers / agencies need to start putting the foot down and maybe start rejecting poorly designed creative,” said Pancham Endlaw, Head (South Asia) at Opera Mediaworks. 

Opera, itself, has been working to create a number of creative ad formats. For example, through its acquisition of AdColony last year, it now has the ability to stream HD video ads without significant lag. It has also created a user-initiated ad unit, which works like the Affinity solution.

“It is a tricky balance, but publishers need to keep in mind that user experience is paramount. We recommend premiums via formats like rich media, tap to video, sharper targeting, innovations, etc. to increase monetization from same inventory pool for publishers. It is best of both worlds— it lifts the overall site-experience and ad-formats leave a better impact on users. But publishers need credible and robust DMP and targeting platforms to deliver this promise. In most cases we see publishers using home-grown products, which may not be the most credible solution,” added Endlaw.

The challenge for brands is clear—create ads that people will actually want to see or interact with. This could be rich media, video, clever use of the smartphone’s unique features or, even, a simple banner ad well made. The gauntlet has been thrown.

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