A modest (mobile) proposal to prevent viewability eating us all

It's said, "people don't hate ads, they hate bad ads." Yet we keep pouring fuel on the fire by focusing on strategies that encourage bad ads.

By Jonathan Dunn

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift – best known for writing Gulliver’s Travels – penned A Modest Proposal. In it, he argued that the Irish poor could ease their financial hardship by selling their children as food for the rich.

I’d like to propose we need a similarly radical solution to solve mobile ad viewability once and for all.

Consumers continue to do everything they can to ignore digital ads. No more, I say. With Facial Recognition and AI assistants now widely available on smartphones, we should use these technologies to eye track screen viewing and loudly point out to consumers when they didn’t spend enough time looking at an ad. Once notified of their transgression, a high-pitched siren will emit from the phone speakers. Only a face scan or, if that’s not supported, a fingerprint scan will allow the consumer to deactivate the siren and only once the ad has been viewed to MRC standards. And, obviously, the advertiser gets to access the biometric data.


Most people didn’t like Swift’s proposal either.

Neither of these proposals were meant to be taken seriously. While Swift’s was groundbreaking satire with a serious point to make and mine is nothing anyone should take seriously (please, no one take it seriously), I believe we’re going down the wrong path with viewability.

To start, viewability seems to have become a campaign KPI. Nothing personal, but if viewability is one of your KPIs, you need to rethink your goals. Viewability is the validation that an ad had an “opportunity to be seen”. It’s an expectation, not an outcome. At least click through rate, for all its faults, is an outcome relatable to media and creative strategy.

Yet campaign viewability goals persist. This has led to more intrusive or “sticky” formats not better design and user experiences, which just pushes more consumers to install ad blockers and for platforms (iOS, Android) to impose themselves and filter out annoying ads.

There are encouraging signs though. Publishers with quality content are killing interstitials in favor of a better user experience. The Coalition for Better Ads is an industry consortium designed to address these issues.

Last year, NBCU hosted a blue chip “state of the nation” event and their ad sales chief, Linda Yaccarino opened the event with: “We have a problem. I know it; you know it; we all know it.”


NBC’s Entertainment chief, Bob Greenblatt, had a suggestion. Better Ads.

“People are running away from ads in droves. How do we stop that? I’m in the business of making shows. We need to find ways to make those interruptions a lot more powerful, a lot more entertaining and a lot more emotional.”

2 out of 3 ain’t bad. Yes to more entertaining. Yes to more emotional. But we can’t remain locked in an “interruptions” mode of thinking.

Case in point: the latest innovations in broadcast advertising seem to be increasingly animated and intrusive “snipes” that appear right after the commercial break during content. If it looks like a pop up and smells like a pop up…

It’s said, “people don’t hate ads, they hate bad ads.” Yet we keep pouring fuel on the fire by focusing on strategies that encourage bad ads.


TV advertising is still rightly held up as the gold standard for storytelling that generates emotional responses.

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Great print ads routinely prove “a picture’s worth 1000 words.”


Out of Home installations have tremendous ability to get people talking.

These mediums succeed by first grabbing, then holding your attention. And while digital has the first part figured out, the latter has been more of a struggle.

Which brings me to my real Modest Proposal. One that’s modest because the tools all exist and there’s a hunger across the industry to do better.

  1. Invest in creative innovation through design. TV and Print have had the same basic format for decades, yet their ability to land brand messaging remains.
  2. Do the work to understand the links and dependencies between a trinity of media qualities: environment, exposure and engagement. The opportunity to be seen is pointless without appreciating the human experience.
  3. Acknowledge that attention metrics such as time spent / view, total in-view time/campaign and valid traffic % give a much richer view of campaign impact. These are your creative benchmarks.
  4. Where practical and appropriate, add attribution measurement (footfall or purchase) or brand studies.

2018 has the potential to be the year where mobile advertising grows up; because it has to and because it wants to. It’s not enough anymore to just be seen. It must be felt in real and positive ways for the people we’re trying to reach. As it stands, they are fed up and turning their back on us.

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At Juice, Jonathan leads partnership activity across supply, data and emerging technology, as well as providing management oversight of the Creative Studio and Marketing functions. He is a believer that commercialization without the irritation is possible and, ultimately, required. As consumers and platform owners take back control of their ad experience, Jonathan’s mission is to ensure Juice delivers compelling, progressive, measurable and ultimately effective solutions for our clients. His career in mobile pre-dates the iPhone and covers roles at publishers, agencies and technology vendors.