August 20, 2015 — The Wall Street Journal Over the past few months, a growing number of ad buyers have started insisting on purchasing only mobile ads that people can actually see, say media sales executives.
The insistence when it comes to mobile ads follows an industrywide push over the past year or so aimed at ensuring that marketers only pay for viewable ads on desktops.
Problem is, the advertising industry’s leading measurement authority, the Media Rating Council, which audits research firms ranging from Nielsen to Rentrak, has yet to accredit any third-party technology firms to track mobile ad viewability. (Over a dozen companies have been accredited for desktop ads.) Many ad buyers and sellers say that the mobile data available today from companies such as Moat and Integral Ad Science is far from perfect.
But with mobile accounting for 50% or more of traffic to some major websites, advertisers don’t want to wait for mobile viewabilty to get sorted out. They want to run mobile ads now, and they only want to pay for ones that people have a chance to see. There’s a lot of money at stake, with mobile ad spending expected to exceed $28 billion in the U.S. this year, according to eMarketer. The concern is that money may be wasted on mobile in one of two ways.
On the one hand, advertisers don’t want to pay for mobile ads that people never have a chance to see, either because people scroll past them before they are fully in view on a given screen, or because these ads technically fail to render for whatever reason.
On the flip side, media companies are concerned that the mobile ads they are delivering that actually are viewable aren’t being given credit because the tracking technology is flawed or because the way the technology is being implemented doesn’t count mobile ad campaigns accurately.
Ad buyers’ insistence on purchasing only viewable ads before standards and tracking technology have been established is causing big headaches for media companies. Those companies say that because vendors haven’t been accredited to track mobile ads and because tracking mobile ad viewabiliy is inherently different on mobile devices versus desktop computers, they are faced with all sorts of discrepancies–and potential lost revenue–when tracking the performance of ad campaigns.
“It’s a struggle,” said Monica Ho, head of marketing at the mobile ad firm xAd. Her team frequently runs mobile ad campaigns, only to hear from a third party that 50% of the ads they believe are being delivered are deemed non-viewable. “That’s significant. But we are being told that if we don’t use some sort of mobile viewability guarantee we won’t be on campaigns.”
Back in May, the MRC issued interim guidance on measuring mobile ads for viewability. Essentially, the MRC’s message for the ad market was this: we are working toward establishing metrics to track mobile ad viewability. At this point, no vendors are accredited to do so. In the meantime, you should count ads in mobile browsers as viewable the same way you count desktop display ads: if and only if at least 50% of the ad is visible for at least one second (two seconds for video ads).
However, in that guidance, the MRC also introduced a new metric that is unique to ads that appear in mobile applications. It said that ads that are “loaded” in apps, but may be visible for too short a time or have too little of the ad on screen to be considered “viewable” to consumers, should not be counted as viewable in ad buys.
Needless to say, it’s complicated.