Demanding More Stringent Measurement, Some Brands Are Using Their Own Viewability Standards

HP and Nestle set their own definitions

HP is only paying for digital promos in view for at least five seconds. Getty Images
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For the past three years, brands have leaned on guidelines established by the Media Rating Council to ensure that they buy digital ads that are actually seen on websites and mobile apps. Now, a handful of big-name marketers claim that those requirements are not stringent enough and are pushing back with their own viewability standards that meet stricter criteria.

The MRC’s standard charges advertisers after 50 percent of a display ad is in view for one second and two seconds for video ads. The metric has become the de facto method of transacting with publishers and increasingly social platforms, but some brands say that they’re unsatisfied with the guidelines.

Some brands don’t see eye-to-eye

One such brand is HP, which has been working with measurement firm Integral Ad Science to create its own set of parameters to measure digital ads. Unlike the MRC’s definition, HP is optimizing its media spend for display ads that have 100 percent of pixels in view for five seconds. For video ads, 100 percent of a promo must be in view for half of the video’s length. In a 30-second pre-roll ad for example, HP is billable once 15 seconds play.

“We’re advocating for higher standards in reporting metrics, resulting in more transparency and security in ad buys to ensure the brand is reaching only target audiences and making meaningful, lasting connections,” said Dan Salzman, global head of media of analytics and insights at HP. “We know the MRC standard was a great leap in understanding viewability but for HP, we don’t think it goes far enough.”

Since HP products come at higher price points, consumers “need more information than can be communicated just using the MRC standard,” he added. “We set metrics that we think are a more common sense standard for what people need to see in order for our content to communicate effectively.”

HP backs up its tougher stance on viewability with internal stats, claiming that its standard has a conversion rate four times higher than the MRC’s standard. Finding ad inventory that can meet the higher requirement is hard though. HP says that 20 percent to 30 percent of available digital inventory meets its requirements, “which makes finding that inventory without inflating cost-per-thousand (or CPMs) the challenge,” said Salzman.

Working with GroupM—WPP’s media network that has been particularly proactive in advocating for higher viewability standards—Nestle has also established its own viewability metrics. According to a source, Nestle pays for display ads once they are in view for at least four seconds. That number is higher than GroupM’s recently-revamped requirements that include social video. Per GroupM, native, outstream and pre-roll videos must be 100 percent in view and play for half the length of the video. In-feed video on social platforms must also be 100 percent in view and GroupM is currently working on a time frame. For display ads, a placement must be 100 percent in view for at least one second.

“We are delivering higher viewability than the MRC industry standard—this sources from a strong digital accountability plan which guides our advertising investment strategy,” Nestle said in a statement.

According to the MRC, “we haven’t seen a large number of brands or entities moving toward individual viewability metrics,” said a rep in an email.

The email specifically cited Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard and the Association of National Advertisers’ calls for better transparency and measurement in digital media as a reason why brands aren’t asking for custom metrics.

While Pritchard and others are demanding that Facebook, Google and others undergo audits to gain MRC accreditation, there’s a case to be made that any kind of standard—even low ones—are better than nothing. Plus, getting all of the digital industry on board with the MRC’s definition could lead to more stringent requirements in the future.

“The viewable impression is an opportunity-to-see metric, not meant to convey assurance that the brand message was passed to the user—it was never meant to do this,” wrote the MRC in the email. “Our rationale for someone to feel they have to use a different (more ‘stringent’) set of parameters is that they are trying to use the metric we’ve standardized for both functions.”

The MRC acknowledged that while it’s pushed for viewable impressions, “we haven’t as of yet provided [marketers] with good industry standard-based metrics for the branding-type assurance.” Earlier this year, the MRC released a new guideline that uses viewable impressions as part of “more advanced metrics such as GRPs, digital in-target audiences for ads as well as duration metrics.”

Or as Daniel Ayers, associate director of media at DigitasLBi put it, “There may also be confusion between ‘viewable’ and ‘attention’—the MRC definition doesn’t take into account the user’s attention.”

According to Ayers, conveying a message in the first second or two of an ad is tough and impressions are counted as viewable even if the user never had a chance to see the message. Plus, “the MRC definition is a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t take into account the goals of a brand, a campaign or an ad.”

Still, different reporting across multiple platforms means that some brands don’t have a unified definition of a view. Speaking after an Advertising Week panel last week, Paramount Pictures’ svp of research and analytics Reggie Panaligan said that the film studio measures views “on a platform-to-platform basis,” meaning that YouTube and Facebook views are not compared against each other. “It’s something that our agencies are pushing but even on a day-to-day basis, everyone still talks about differences in the views.”

A reporting headache

At the same time, custom metrics can be a headache for agencies and publishers to keep track of since reporting needs to be sliced up for each individual client.

“While advertisers should be loud about what they want and always ask for more, the burden will now fall more on the publisher and agency to either accommodate or educate their clients,” said Marc Goldberg, CEO of Trust Metrics. “Brands need to develop multiple KPIs and monitor the results and optimize to quality viewability environments.”

During another panel about programmatic advertising at Advertising Week, The Washington Post’s Jason Tollestrup, director of programmatic and business intelligence, said that he’s heard of brands creating their own viewability standards, but questioned how effective the standards are since publishers have different definitions of viewability.

“The thing about viewability is that it sounds great, [but] there are some challenges on the measurement side,” he said. “At the end of the day, we all try to reconcile these differences, we all try to make our sites more viewable, but there are some technological challenges.”

DigitasLBi’s Ayers agreed, adding that custom metrics are a headache for billing and negotiating media buying. “It’s easier to transact on the MRC standard and agencies that wanted to pay on a different standard may have trouble finding media partners to accept the terms,” he said. “The last potential headache is having a measurement vendor be able to measure and report on that alternative viewability standard. I believe all the accredited vendors have the data, but development work may be needed to make it available to the agencies and media partners.”

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.