The digital marketing ecosystem is the fastest growing medium; in India and the world. Google and Facebook have emerged as the most important platforms for digital advertisers. They provide all the benefits that one associates with digital advertising; reach, great targeting capability and precise metrics. However, it seems that the spectre of ad viewability is refusing to let go of them.
Ad Age, in a recent article, claimed that some brands like Kellogg are pulling out of deals with big publishers, including YouTube and Facebook over viewability issues. These brands want to bring in neutral companies to check whether their ads are actually being seen; something the latter are not too keen on.
A digital professional, who did not wish to be named, said, the issue started once Google released its viewability study earlier this year. In that study, it said that 56.1 per cent of online ads are not viewable, which means that even though they might appear on the page, they are not actually seen by the visitor. Understandably, it created a storm among advertisers and media agencies as it turns the whole premise on which digital advertising has been built on its head.
For example, let us consider that a marketer spends Rs 200 for every 1,000 impressions his ad gets online (CPM model). Google's study says these impressions need not necessarily be actual views, some digital professionals attribute this to banner blindness, when the viewer subconsciously ignores banner ads. But the reasons are many. Yet another concern, according to the head of a digital agency, is that percentage of fraudulent clicks/views for digital ads could be as high as 40 per cent.
So, not only does it seem that advertisers are paying money for ads that are not being seen but a large number of these clicks and views might also be circumspect.
Is enough being done to ensure transparency?
The Media Rating Council and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have set out guidelines that state that at least 50 per cent of a video ad’s pixels must be seen on screen for at least two consecutive seconds or more for a video ad to be considered viewable and this is a standard that most publishers and ad agencies strive to achieve.
But the absence of standard tools is exacerbating the issue and digital and media professionals agree that 100 per cent viewability on digital ads is impossible at present. In December 2014, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) officials admitted in a press statement that different ad units, browsers and measurement methodologies are leading to different viewability numbers, which is creating complications.
To be fair, major publishers like Facebook and YouTube do provide assurances about the viewability of ads on their platforms. For example, YouTube says its viewability rate is as high as 91 per cent (for video views). But these companies are very protective about their data and systems. This is understandable as it is what they have built their fortunes on. The lack of transparency is hardly going to allay concerns that other brands like Kellogg might have.
Another reason for this reluctance on the part of publishers could be that third party tracking tends to give widely divergent numbers. For example, the head of an Indian ad tech company told us that they have experienced as high as 20-80 per cent drop in numbers whenever a client has got an external agency to track performance of ads. “Facebook and Google are big enough to get away with it,” he opined.
Indian marketers maintain trust not affected
This of course does not mean that publishers are not trustworthy. Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO South Asia of Dentsu Aegis Network, also agreed that viewability has become a serious consideration for Indian brands. “There are ways to track it (viewability) apart from the data that Facebook and Google provide. There is enough trust with the big publishers so we have not seen any significant demand for third party verifications,” he said.
Charulata Ravi Kumar, CEO of Razorfish India, feels that the ecosystem will find a solution once the market becomes more mature. “For a very long time we (India) have been just looking to the West, which is why the over reliance on the likes of Google and Facebook. Once there is enough competition in the terms of large digital publishers, they will be forced to soften their stance,” she said. She pointed out to the large Chinese digital companies which have created huge ecosystems online like Tencent and Alibaba. “When Alibaba and other Chinese companies enter India with their model, it will be a game changer,” she added.
Kumar also agreed that getting accurate data on viewability is a challenge for digital ads but one way of overcoming this by going through ad servers. “We always advise our clients to use ad servers even though they are a bit more expensive,” she opined.
In India, the issue of third party verification of viewability figures has not really created much of a stir.
The CMO of a well known hospitality brand said, “We have always had good relations with them (Google and Facebook ) so the matter of getting third party audits has never come up.” This seems to be a common theme with Indian brands and digital agencies, with most either not wanting to jeopardize their relation with the biggies or trusting in the numbers being provided to them.
The Marketing Head of a BFSI institution also agreed that they have not considered third party audits for the likes of Google and Facebook. Even media planners we spoke to said there has never been a reason to second guess their numbers.