Turning the Page from Viewability: What’s Coming Next

Two-plus years on from the launch of the Viewability Guidelines for desktop display and video ads, there continues to be a great deal of discussion around viewability across the industry.  We understand the focus on this, given its importance and the difficulties that are always inherent to a shift in an industry’s currency measurements, but we also believe the debate is overly focused on analyzing the limitations of viewable impressions rather than understanding their intent. This can only serve to hinder us in moving forward toward better ad effectiveness measurement tools, and giving marketers and advertisers a clearer and more holistic picture of the impact of their investments.

Consider this an effort to move the discussion forward…

In late June, MRC released the final version of the Mobile Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines.  This marked something of a milestone, in that it represented the last open piece of standardization for digital ad viewability measurement.  Except for periodic future updates, the rules for viewability measurement are now largely in place.

As such, this is a particularly opportune moment to review the progress the industry has made over the last several years, and what we expect will come over the next few.  The MRC’s Viewability initiative represented the first phase of our program for developing digital measurement standards aligned with the principles articulated by the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative. 3MS, which is a joint undertaking of the ANA, the 4A’s and the IAB, promulgated a series of five principles in 2011 that were designed to lead to the greater utility and value of digital advertising for brand advertisers, as well as to make digital measurement more comparable to measurements of other media types.

In a nutshell, the five principles 3MS put forth were:

  1. Move digital advertising to a viewable impressions standard.
  2. Migrate to a currency based on audience impressions, not gross ad impressions.
  3. Create a transparent ad classification system.
  4. Determine interactive “metrics that matter” for brand advertisers to allow for better evaluation of online advertising’s contribution to brand building.
  5. Make digital measurement increasingly comparable and integrated with other media.

You’ll note that viewability constitutes only the first of these principles, but it’s really an important one that sets a foundation for all that’s to follow (except #3, ad classification, which is being addressed independently under the leadership of IAB).

The completion of our standards for viewability measurement now allows us to move forward to the next points on the 3MS agenda.  While some aspects of this work have been done in parallel (for instance, our MRC guidelines for the detection and filtration of invalid traffic, and for social media measurement, and our current work on developing location-based measurement guidelines), viewability was actually a pre-requisite for most of what remains on our roadmap.

We’re already well underway with developing guidelines for digital audience-based metrics, for which viewable impressions are the initial criteria, filtered for invalid traffic, with duration of exposure considered, and segmented by audience targeting criteria.  From there, we’ll be in a position to address cross-media audience metrics on an “apples-to-apples” basis.  And, importantly, we’ll soon be able to shift our focus from those metrics, like viewability, that measure the success of an ad’s delivery, to the identification and creation of those “metrics that matter,” as the 3MS principals put it, that measure the success of an ad’s messaging and an ad’s effectiveness.  It’s this latter piece that’s really the key end goal of our work.

But an ad needs to be successfully delivered prior to it having any chance to be effective, and that’s been the primary focus of our work up until recently.  While viewability certainly represents an important advancement in the state of digital measurement, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it will serve as a foundation upon which even more improvement will come.

George Ivie is the CEO and Executive Director of the Media Rating Council. Follow him on Twitter @gwiviemrc.  Read more about the data behind the Viewable Impression Guidelines here.