Advertisers Ready to Make an Impression

Web ad business finally moves to a new measurement standard, but it could get messy

In early 2013, the online ad industry will finally rally around the concept of viewable impressions—just don’t expect everyone to hop on board at once.

As part of the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, endorsed by an alphabet soup of groups ranging from the IAB to ANA and the 4A’s, widespread adoption of viewable impressions as a measurement standard for advertisers and publishers is set to take root. In the new year, third-party researchers and analytics vendors—at least those accredited by the Media Rating Council—will begin counting only those ads that users can actually see and will stop counting ads that don’t actually appear on screen.

While many see this as a defining event—the moment when online advertising finally grows up—full implementation will take time, and it’s bound to get messy, according to experts.

“It’s not a situation where you have everyone signed on and magically, on Jan. 1, everyone sees the light,” said David Rittenhouse, media director at Razorfish. “Advertisers who care about viewability have already moved or are doing the due diligence, checking budgets and testing, etc., but it might not be helpful for everyone. Certainly there will be more jumping on board as there is more data and viewability proves itself.”

As advertisers and publishers gradually adopt the viewability metric, there are sure to be growing pains, especially as publishers see “nonviewable” inventory cut. And yet those publishers who can afford to take a hit in short-term inventory will be in the position of differentiating themselves by emphasizing quality over quantity, said Curt Hecht, chief global revenue officer at The Weather Company.

“The real story in 2013 will be about more effective advertising,” he said, asking, “Why wouldn’t we embrace this? A world without a focus on effectiveness becomes a world defined by cheap impressions. We can increase quality.”

But as premium brands such as Weather put the focus on quality, the rest of the market will have to deal with viewability’s ripple effect on price and inventory supply. Meanwhile, ad networks that make a nice living on below-the-fold ads may not be motivated to blow up their businesses.

That could cause some to hold off on adopting viewable impressions as part of their media plans. “Plenty of clients and agencies don’t view it as critical yet, which may sound crazy,” Rittenhouse said. “But so many people are juggling so many things right now, some may not be sure if the technology is worth the cost yet.”

Though change might prove to be a bitter pill for some, many in the industry see the embrace of new measurement standards as part of the inevitable evolution of digital.

“This is the gateway, and it’s a very big moment,” said Sherrill Mane, the IAB’s svp, research, measurement and analytics.

In addressing the concerns, Mane pointed out that “this sort of change has happened in other media. When TV transitioned to the [Nielsen] People Meter to measure audience, there were fears. But lo and behold, pricing eventually went up.”