In a dark hallway waiting to go on stage at the Internet Advertising Bureau conference on real-time advertising, I found myself being fitted for a microphone in close proximity to the Financial Times' commercial director of digital advertising, Jon Slade. He charmingly turned his back while my mic cord was threaded through my clothes – after all, we had only just met, and the FT is a publication for gentlemen.
We were assembling for the viewability debate at this year's RTA get-together. The subtitle, "Make the most of it", said it all. A revolution in media thinking is upon us. Not everyone is exploiting the possibilities of getting up close and personal with your prospective customer that RTA offers yet.
Caroline Kinsman from Waitrose.com seems to be doing so. Her case study was a great example of applying traditional DR test-and-learn principles across the whole life cycle of attracting and keeping customers. She described a programme that included reach-based offline media to prospective customers, synchronised online messages to exploit the second screen and retargeting with relevant copy for those who shopped once or didn't sign up.
This use of media specifically to get up close and personal with the customer was once only a theory. John Grant predicted the trend in his fine book The New Marketing Manifesto as long ago as 2000. The examples he gave were ideas. They were concepts. The reality now is that RTA gives us breathtaking opportunities to deliver those ideas.
What of viewability, the debate that I was part of?
I think many in the audience were shocked by the facts that emerged on this issue. I'll sum up with a comment from MediaCom's head of digital investment, Tim Lawrence: "Viewability is a really hot topic at present in digital – the ability to track whether an online ad is being viewed by the user on screen is now available – and, if you hear that only 30 per cent of online ads are seen and that you shouldn’t pay for anything that isn’t viewed, then you can understand the push for a greater emphasis."
One issue is simply someone not seeing an online ad because it's below the "fold" or minimised. In this instance, the medium is suffering from no greater a problem than traditional media. I suggested to the FT that viewability standards proposed by the IAB could give online ads better viewability standards than that in the paper edition, whose audience measurement is according to the National Readership Survey standard – surely a great advantage for the medium as far as accountability is concerned.
The standard proposed by the IAB is that one view is 50 per cent of the ad seen for at least one second. While it is progress, this does seem rather light and, more importantly, does not match the standard set by Barb (three seconds).
It is a pity that, once again, the industry is missing an opportunity to set comparable audience standards between media. It will, however, help the situation and can be used as a brief for creative work (get the logo and strapline in early – the creative agency will truly love that!).
The more worrying aspect of viewability is fraud. Around 13 per cent of views are not human, according to a report from Integral Ad Science. And the bots that view the ads also click through to make a mockery of pay per click.
This is not the Wild West – sellers of views online must shun the practices of snake oil salesmen even if there is a short-term uplift from soft standards. RTA offers unprecedented opportunities for reaching prospects up close and personal. The more stringent and more rigorous the audience metrics are, the better for the fortunes of the industry.
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom