Pharma, ad agencies press publishers for higher ad viewability standards

Viewability, at its simplest, measures whether people visiting a web or mobile site can see an ad. But it's been a hot-button issue in the ad world for several years. After all, clicking past ads is standard practice for most web visitors.

Now, the debate is coming to pharma. In an industry first, the Association of Medical Media meets Thursday to discuss new standards for online ad viewability

Under current Media Ratings Council standards, 50% of an ad's pixels must be visible for at least one second for a display ad, and at least two seconds for a video. But some say that's not enough. The Internet Advertising Bureau now recommends that 70% of the ad be visible for one second, while individual brands and agencies are pushing for even more, usually 100%.

So what does it all matter to AMM and its members? As digital media becomes more and more important to pharma marketing plans, viewability will also become more important to the pharma marketing ecosystem of publishers, agencies and brands.

CMI/Compas, which says it buys about a third of all digital and mobile media in this space, plans to send reps to the meeting and will present testimony, as will some of its pharma clients.

Michelle Potts

"I think what they're intending for this meeting is to take a look at viewability and then talk about tying that to some sort of financial implication. … How are we going to tie viewability to accountability? Is there going to be some sort of financial payment tied to viewability?" said Michelle Potts, VP of buying services and deliverables at Compas. Her agency now only pays for ads that meet the MRC viewability standard, and will speak up at the meeting for IAB's preferred 70%.

If history in the consumer ad world is any indication, AMM should be prepared for a spirited debate with publishers on one side and ad agencies and their pharma clients on the other. Ad Age held a Viewability Summit last year, noting that the group "surprisingly … reached a measure of consensus on three key points that could help the conversation advance."

Still, the issue is far from settled. In 2014, Conde Nast generated buzz as the first publisher to agree to 100% viewability, at the insistence of media buyer Group M and its client brands, which included Unilever ($UL). Since then, viewability has been a key factor in ad deals and publisher website redesigns.

"There have been some limited discussions in our industry," Potts said, "But this is taking it to the next level, because this is allowing all those who attend to give their testimonials around viewability and what they think the implications of viewability should be. We're hopeful that there would be some sort of alignment that comes out of this."

According to the AMM agenda for the day, voting will be held later in the afternoon with a presentation of "polling results and next steps" as the final item.

Potts noted that Compas' own efforts have seen success. When it began pushing for better viewability in 2014, campaigns were averaging about 47%, but by the end of 2015 were averaging 69%.

- see Ad Age's Viewability Summit article
- read more about the AMM meeting

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