Brands have been really bent out of shape since the report that came out towards the end of 2014 stating that less than half the ads presented on the web are being seen by actual people. Yes, the majority of digital ads are being screened by bots and spammers, the worst of the worst in terms of a digital audience.
In that scenario, the brands were facing multiple issues: 1) the numbers being reported were elevated, 2) the number of actual viewers was much lower than they thought, and 3) if they were paying per click or per view, they were paying a lot of money for wasteful viewing.
We highlighted the third point when we covered the group of brands and digital security companies joining forces to search for and destroy bots on the web.
But, as the C-Suite and their lawyers often do, they sent AdLand an ultimatum. The final straw has been written about by the folks over at AdAge. Basically, brands are pulling ads from digital sources unless publishers can tell them exactly what is being seen at what percentage; the publishers need to guarantee 100% viewability.
We get irritated with these reports and demands from brands because they are focusing on the wrong numbers. Leo Burnett advocated the fact that advertising is meant to boost sales. Period. If Brand A had 100,000 sales before a digital ad campaign and had 140,000 sales after the ad campaign, the campaign might be considered effective, regardless of what percentage of people viewed the ad.
Get over it.
It is interesting that brands dump money into TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and even billboards, and no brand (at least, not published) goes to the billboard rep and asks "How many commuters on I-95 definitely saw my ad?"
It's not a bright question in that scenario, so why does that same question beg an audience in the digital scenario?
Another thing — even if 100% of people who could have seen your ad actually saw it, what makes you so sure that each viewer will buy the product or spread the word about it? We realize that brands want the biggest sea of consumers possible, but we also know that a bigger sea doesn't mean more fish.
Take, for example: Company A finds that 46% of people saw the ad, and out of those 46%, 90% bought a product. That's pretty good. Company B finds that 100% of people saw the product, and out of those numbers, 46% bought the product. Which company is better off?
Don't take the above example at face value. We left out some important variables so the point could be made. It seems like in the first example, the audience reached has engaged; they interacted with the content. The latter example simply was part of a large audience who saw an ad.
We would love to assume that every person that views an ad would buy. Though it's a positive outlook, it is simply not reality. What if the product doesn't match the wants or needs of the consumer? Once everyone sees an ad, chances are that sales would dip, because more people would realize that a product wasn't not for them. Yes, though it is not a fun idea to think about, it is much more likely to happen than everyone choosing to buy.
This article can go into many more reasons why 100% viewability is not the scale to look at. If you are truly worried about the bottom line, then watch the sales, not the view rates. Publishers want you to succeed (they'll get more money that way, obviously) so if your sales go up, and they put you in better places, then it's a win-win.
Demanding an unrealistic statistic will reap unfavorable results. That you can depend on.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.