Viewability isn’t just a digital problem, it’s an advertising problem

Be it switching channels, second screening, or simply getting up to go to the bathroom; advertising has had a viewability problem since long before digital entered the mix. Regardless of channel, our natural inclination is to avoid advertising, meaning marketers have got some work to do. VML's Henry Innis explains.

Ask any marketer worth their salt to name the challenges they face, and you’re almost certain to find digital viewability as one of the big issues. Last year, for example, an audit of digital inventory found only 40% of local digital inventory was viewable.

Hearing that you only got 40% of the reach you paid for is concerning at best.

These problems all sound like they’re new. But truth is, they’re not. Viewability has been a growing issue for advertising over a number of years (starting with when we built the remote control).

Mark Ritson noted in 2003 that “The first behaviour of a Friends audience when the break begins was often to engage in social interaction, typically at the expense of advertising viewing.”

Basically – when people have a choice they don’t watch the advertising.

That behaviour he noted dropped off as fatigue set in and people were more likely to ‘mindlessly’ watch ads. But the point is this – there have long been issues with knowing what people actually do in ad breaks. When we study what they do, the results suggest they don’t just sit there and watch the ads happily.

TV is in decline is something I’ve (wrongly) mentioned before. But TV moments are certainly supported by other media moments, with more cross-over than we think.

The rise of the mobile phone has made this even worse. People no longer need friends or a change of channel to make TV ads less viewable. The device in their hand makes paying attention to ads even less appealing. After all, why not just mute the TV/radio and browse new content in your hand?

You can see this challenge shown below. TV isn’t exactly declining, but time spent in other medias is increasing. Personally, I wonder how much of the yellow and blue lines cross-over one another and intersect.

Accenture helps to shed some light on the topic. 87% of users now second screen when they’re watching television. That’s a staggering number of people crossing between mobiles and TV programs. The same might be true vice versa, as well.

When 87% of people are second screening, you have to think that yellow and blue might intersect quite a lot more than we think. And as Ritson points out, it’s probably happening during the ad break.

We can see in digital that there are similar issues. We saw before that lots of ads simply aren’t showing on screen. But you can go further than that. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest people don’t even notice lots of digital formats outside of the big platforms.

Banner ads are a prime example of this.

In 2013, online advertising platform Infolinks showed that 86% of people suffered from banner blindness. In the same study, only 14% of respondents recalled the last display ad they saw.

When we talk viewability in digital, we’re not actually talking about a new problem. The sad reality is whether it be bots or digital, most advertisers aren’t getting the captive reach they pay for.

The difference today is our ability to measure that.

The message is clear. The natural behaviour for people – regardless of channel – is to try to avoid advertising. Which makes it even more important to have the right message in the right media.

Without the right media, we never reach the right people.

Without the right message or idea, they never even give us the time of day.

Henry Innis is a strategist at marketing agency VML. 


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