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In 2011, at the digital agency I worked for in London, we did a quick estimation and  found that we had bought around 3%-5% of the total digital advertising inventory (display) existing in the Top 5 markets of the EU in a given quarter. 3% to 5% for a single brand is a lot of SOV, in case you’re wondering.

That agency, which I know still remains among the best in the business, was working for the most sophisticated and forward thinking client in the world; At least at that time. Every penny we invested in Online Display or Video advertising was thoroughly scrutinized by people on the client side who asked really sharp and driven questions. 

Everything had a reason to be, we did “test and learn” exercises (quite a lot actually), but back then we were using and considering digital marketing concepts that only became mainstream 2 or 3 years later (in a 10 year old business). These concepts ranged from frequency control, A/B testing, brand lift studies, proper CPA optimization, marketing codes and supply chain transparency. We looked at every element known to maximize the efficiency of the media dollars from our client. 

Despite having a great bunch of people working really hard and acknowledging we were wasting resources, I don’t think we had still realized the problem with “served ad units” and “viewed ad units”; nor had the industry.  But at some point around then, we all started to realize that “served” vs “viewed” was an issue worth to be considered. Soon after (late 2014?), the industry took on the case and placed a number of guidelines to homogenize and define what viewability was, so brands, publishers and agencies could finally speak the same language. The agreement was that if 50% of the pixels were exposed during more than 2 seconds, the ad was considered as viewed. 

Aim for the industry

One of the problems had been tackled, and I won’t go into detail about fake traffic here or other topics that have affected our business since then, but for viewability we finally had something to aim for as an industry. So everyone involved went on to enhance the standards and to be more accountable for the digital ads we bought. The improvement was important and greatly pushed forward from clients and brands.

It’s been a while since and many things have happened, but if we focus purely on viewability and viewability alone, I think this has become landscape again. 

Anyone can sell or buy viewability these days, and if we agree that 50% of the pixels during 2 seconds is ad money well spent, we could still challenge many other things, like if the person on the other side of the screen has actually noticed the ad or not.

Online ads get the job done consistently, but in the depth of our hearts all of us in the business have some doubts about them, especially when we see metrics saying that 0,13% of the people who saw them, actually clicked on them. I have recently bumped into data and facts that made me realize that less is more, and that we need to look at the basics closely, going from the sharpness of the creative (an obvious one, this is Advertising), to the relevance of the environment to where advertising becomes valuable to users.

MetrixLab has recently released a powerful piece of content stating the importance of these variables, and how they enhance each other to make more sense of the digital advertising dollars we manage for our clients. The research company has applied eye-tracking technology to understand every placement, content and ad units on a website. 

They’ve measured them and extracted quite strong conclusions, one is the speed at which the users notice the ad units (it’s 3.5x faster) and other is that these ads were able to retain users' attention on average 4s longer, when these ad units are on the visual elements of the articles. The boost this drives is evident when it comes to branding metrics.

Environment, viewability and attention are now controllable key elements that can make a big difference and we need to maximize them onwards. We’ve come a long way in the last 5 years, and today our business has every bit of information to ensure the journey ahead of brands, publishers and users sharing the same car, is fair and pleasant to all of them, and takes them to their destination in the best way possible.