Column: Digital ad measurement in 2013

IAB Canada president Chris Williams on how the Canadian industry can improve online data.
Chris Williams, IAB Canada President - headshot July 2012

Should advertisers only pay for ads that were seen?

It’s a great idea but there isn’t a medium that can do it – not yet, anyway.

Effective advertising starts with two things: ads that are viewable, and people to view them. And note, there is quite a difference between viewable and viewed.

For years, the definition of a viewable online ad was one where the ad server loaded an ad to the page.  Much like newspaper it didn’t matter whether the ad was in a person’s view or not – it had been delivered; it was in your house, it was on your computer. To change the ad from viewable to viewed, the consumer had to turn to that page or that part of the page.

Television is the same. The ad is delivered to your living room; who and how many people are in that room at the time that specific ad arrives is a different question.

All media have a currency; newspaper has insertions, television has GRPs, and online has impressions. None of these currencies guarantee the size of the audience seeing the specific ad. The differences between the currency (what marketers actually pay for) and the ad exposure, vary considerably from medium to medium. Nonetheless all media are pushing to improve how their medium can be measured.

“Marketers demand effective audience measurement and media currencies that keep abreast of technology capabilities while industry bodies work to create standards to enable trade,” says Bob Reaume, VP policy and research at the Association of Canadian Advertisers. “Media investments will naturally flow towards products that can prove ads were seen and were effective.”

Media technology pushes the online industry closer to the ideal of measuring every ad impression delivered to people seeing the ad. We have two levels of confidence in the data:

Pretty good data is called a metric. We can use it directionally to inform planning and uncover insights, but it has faults that are known.

Better data can be used as currency, it is the best available for that medium at scale and therefore publishers, agencies, and marketers are willing to use it as the basis for trading.

New online technology provides data about viewable online impressions. The question at hand is: should we use it as a metric or as currency? The answer is metric not currency… for now.

There are two ways to deliver an online ad, JavaScript and iFrames. Measuring viewable impressions within iFrames is difficult, but not impossible, to count accurately. There are at least six different methods to measure viewability and, based on Media Ratings Council testing, some are more effective at seeing into iFrames than others. There is a potential fix called SafeFrame, however this method will take time to test and implement.

All of this means that using the viewable technology for media as a currency, across the board, is on hold for now. The MRC recommends working with accredited technology providers for metrics.

In summary, all members of IAB Canada share the same goal of developing the Canadian digital media marketplace. Currencies change as products become mature. The trend for the last decade will push digital to be the number one media channel by spend, likely in 2014; however, to earn that spot we must continually improve.

The Canadian digital media ecosystem is becoming increasingly plugged-in to the world through international technologies, companies, and associations. To try and stand still is futile but to move without due consideration is reckless. We must recognize that changing media currency involves detailed discussions around Terms and Conditions, workflow and billing systems, things that do not change overnight.

Important further reading:

Viewable Impression Advisory:

A Viewability Technology Primer, Part 1: Promises & Pitfalls:

A Viewability Technology Primer, Part 2: Vendor Selection & Applications:

Digital Metrics, Companies Accredited by MRC: