Big issues to tackle in 2017: online ad effectiveness

digital-twoImagine, if you can, that the direct mail industry used the same metrics as the online advertising sector, that an ad is considered viewable if 50% of it is in view for at least one second. If that was the case, it could be argued that just spotting a postie coming up your path meant the mailshot had been opened.
For a sector which now accounts for the lion’s share of all adspend – predicted to grow by a futher 12.3% in 2016 to reach £9.7bn – the IAB and Media Ratings Council’s recommendation now looks farcical.
And recent in-depth research which used eye-tracking technology reinforces the point: it showed that an online ad needs to be on the screen for 14 seconds to have any chance of being looked at.
In contrast, a different study by Wilmington Millennium Mortascreen claimed that nearly 500 million more direct mailings are being opened and read compared to three years ago.
So it is undestandable when WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell – the boss of the largest marketing services group in the world by revenue – says a number of his clients are having doubts about digital media’s effectiveness.
He first aired his concerns in 2015, and, earlier this year, he said: “Online (spend) is approaching 30% and procurement departments are starting to have a heavy look at spending online. There’s a really big issue in the area of measurement. Measurement of offline (traditional media) is far more stringent and the hurdle is much higher. It is ludicrous to attribute a view to online on the basis of a three second view with 50% of the sound being turned off.”
Give it its due, the IAB is mounting a stiff defence of the industry’s record – well, it would wouldn’t it – and in 2015 introducted the so-called “IAB Believes” initiative in response to mounting criticism about the industry. This year, it claimed the strategy was working well and that it had led to major improvements.
It also unveiled DEAL, a set of options to help publishers with ad blocking and when tackling privacy, and has set up a working group to respond to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and is in discussion with Government and ICO following Brexit.
However, the major push to address online ad viewability has been thwarted by the seemingly unstoppable rise in programmatic buying, with fewer than half of all online ads served in the UK meeting minimum viewability thresholds.
And last week it was claimed that only just over half (53%) of all ads served in UK were viewed by people of the age and gender advertisers intended. The Nielsen study – of more than 44,000 campaigns across 17 countries – paints a worrying picture of the sort of mistargeting and inadequate campaign planning which many brands have already raised fears about.
Most observers are certain of two things: programmatic will rise and so will ad-blocking. So, when will the sector wake up to the fact that viewability, measurement and effectiveness issues need to be tackled head-on?
Whether a major agency group or brand owner will have the resolve to pull – or at least rein in – its online advertising until action is taken, remains to be seen. But something needs to be done, and fast. Over to you Sir Martin…

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