Getting digital to square one

03/14 By Scott Knoll

Linear television doesn’t have the ability to deliver ads that aren’t technically viewable, no one is worried about ad fraud in print, and even in the headiest days of radio, there was no hew and cry about brand safety. Tradition, technology and FCC regulations protect traditional media from a number of challenges that digital marketers cope with. These challenges are, if not unique, at least native to digital environments. Traditional media buyers can take the impression for granted, in digital it’s an uphill fight just to get to square one.

Over the last year I’ve been pleased to see that battle, and the issue of trust and transparency generally, become a topic of serious conversation in our industry and beyond. It’s a battle that IAS has been helping its partners to fight since our earliest days and thanks to a contentious US election cycle that put brand safety in the spotlight and calls for change from major voices like Marc Pritchard and Martin Sorrell that battle has been pushed to the foreground like never before.

The first step to making an informed digital buy isn’t counting up the number of impressions you can secure. The real first step is measuring where you stand now and understanding the impact that fraud, non-viewable inventory, and brand safety risk are having on your media spend. Our role is to add clarity to opaque digital transactions, ensure that buyers know what they pay for and the sellers are in the best position to offer it.

If step one is adding clarity to your buy, so you can see exactly where waste is hiding, then step two is eliminating that waste. This is also an area where we have a reputation that we’re proud to lean on. Once we’ve identified areas of waste, we help our partners to block or avoid them, removing fraudulent, non-viewable, and unsafe inventory from your buy to ensure that our partners are transacting only on clean, real impressions. In other words, we don’t just measure the problems, we help you to get back to square one.

But we don’t think anyone should be satisfied with square one. Digital comes with unique challenges, but it also comes with unique opportunities that aren’t available in traditional media. Impressions alone no longer have to be the goal. Even all fraud-free, brand-safe, fully viewable impressions are not created equal. We want to help our partners to build strategies based on a clear understanding of the value of each impression. How long does an impression need to be in view in order to positively influence a potential buyer? How many total seconds of exposure to your brand’s ads turn a prospect into a customer? How does that differ depending on the formats and creatives used? Is it significantly different from your sister brands or other products across various industries? Exposure time and frequency make a difference, and that difference is specific to your brand and cannot be encompassed by an industry standard metric.  

The step beyond square one is based on consumer engagement metrics. The metric we really need to understand is how engagement with a specific ad leads to more sales. The first step in this direction is looking at ad exposure time. Exposure time is arguably the most important element of any ad campaign because if an ad doesn’t get adequate exposure, nothing else matters. IAS has already worked with partners like HP, Publicis, and Pernod Ricard to build their own custom metrics around exposure time. And that’s the reason I’ve started this blog. To explore and explain how we’ve already helped our partners to go beyond binary metrics like viewability and bulk impressions to help them understand the unique value of THEIR impressions.

Years ago, when I first started talking to my peers across the industry about verification, about the dollars they were wasting on unviewed impressions,  I was surprised by the initial resistance I encountered. Many of these colleagues, it turned out, had become adept at optimizing to popular KPIs. The fact that these KPIs were tied to flawed metrics initially seemed to matter less than maintaining the comfortable status quo. It took time to convince them, and I expect the same today. Over the course of this series, I’ll be sharing some of what I learned in working with early partners to perfect their custom metrics and some of the impact they’ve seen as a result. We’ll present insights, explore our process, and convince you of what I’ve come to believe, that consumer based metrics will move digital forward.