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Recapping AMM’s Viewability Congress – Passionate Testimony from Leaders in Medical Media

On February 4, 2016, over 80 influential leaders in medical media, including publishers, agencies, advertisers and other stakeholders, gathered for the AMM Viewability Congress to discuss the viewability standards set by the IAB in 2015. The congress, held by the Association of Medical Media (AMM), sought to gather testimonies of key stakeholders in order to provide viewability guidelines for their publisher membership and agency affiliations. This discussion has been long overdue, but there is still a long way to go to reach consensus.

During the testimony, there was nearly unanimous agreement that viewability should be studied to help optimize campaigns. Stephanie Hanaway, Director of Journal Media at the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) stated, “If there’s one thing that everyone in this room will agree on at the outset, it’s probably this: An advertisement has zero value unless it’s seen by a human being.” She went on to say, “Publishers have admittedly been slow to respond with their own business models, because it’s difficult – and probably unwise – to build an entire business around something that is changing so quickly and for which there is no consensus on best practices.”

Mike Graziani, SVP Sales at Slack Inc. added, “Consider engagement, the IAB standard for viewability is 50% of ad creative in the viewport for one second. One second is not a strong user engagement. There are other metrics that may better qualify a high performing ad placement such as ‘in-view time’ and ‘total exposure time.’ We have examples of lower viewability ads on our website that outperform high viewability ads in these important metrics. An advertiser who values only viewability will not receive this potential for strong user engagement.”

Craig Overpeck, CTO of MDLinx, also pointed out other metrics in his testimony, “When contracting for a standard CPM program, we believe viewability is a quality metric, just like click-through-rate (CTR), hover rate, and universal interaction rate – it is not the currency. If agencies and their clients do want an in-view impression to be the currency then that can be requested in RFPs and publishers can respond appropriately to that request just like we would for a click or engagement program.” He also added, “We do not believe mixing various quality measures in with a currency measure is an acceptable standard to operate and as a business and as an industry. Simply put, viewability has no effect on currency unless the program’s currency was bid out as an in-view program.”

Tracking in-view time and exposure time also give media planners the ability to evaluate publisher websites on something other than the click. Most industry leaders would agree that CTR is considered a poor metric for measuring performance on banners designed to generate awareness.

Eliot Yaxley, Sales Director for Moat Analytics, confirmed these opinions, “Viewability is not a performance metric; it can only tell you if an ad had the chance to be seen. To fully measure the performance of a campaign you need to look at the attention of the ad such as metrics like brand exposure time and ad interaction.”

One of the main concerns was that the medical media industry might be too quick to take up a viewability standard at the price of alienating visitors. R.J. Lewis, President & CEO of eHealthcare Solutions (also the chairman of the AMM Viewability Task Force), warned the group of the “unintended consequences” of using viewability as a compensation model. “If we start to tie all payment to only viewable ad space, rather than allowing clients to simply measure and optimize for the metric in their ROI analysis, what are the unintended consequences? An excess of viewable ads to the detriment of content? Users frustrated with all the advertising persistently jammed into the viewable screen? We cannot just equate a ‘viewable ad’ with ‘good advertising practices.’ It’s not that simple. Viewing it that way risks killing the golden goose that knows how to consistently deliver quality audiences. Don’t let viewability be a red herring for ROI. Measure what matters most.”

Mike Graziani, broadened the conversation by adding, “Our websites may easily come to resemble a NASCAR hood with multiple advertisers all bunched together competing for prominence next to small amounts of actual content. All ads will hit their IAB 70% but likely be disregarded by users. This is a drastic scenario but one possible unintended consequence among many. Furthermore, the drive for increased ad viewability may prompt our audience to implement ad blocking.”

Mark Gleason, COO for DMD Marketing Corp, furthered this opinion by saying that user experience and quality of content are essential to our long-term success. Ad blockers are going up on a larger percentage of visitor browsers and these are going to affect both the publisher and the sponsor.

Peter Chang, SVP at Lifescript, continued to talk about site visitors by stating that publishers should take ownership to work with all constituents to increase campaign performance on their property, but they have to be mindful of the user experience as well. He also said that while viewability and campaign performance are typically aligned, his data showed that there have been negative correlations in enough instances to not be considered anomalies. This begs the question about which performance measure should then be prioritized above the other.

Aryeh Lebeau, EVP of Client Operations at Remedy Health Media reinforced the idea, “We, as publishers, may be forced to optimize away from ad units that are performing best from a backend perspective simply because the viewability may be lower and, as a result, we will bleed revenue. In truth, this situation is detrimental for both advertisers and publishers.”

From the agency perspective, Ogilvy also got on the user experience band wagon. Johanna Tompetrini, EVP of Professional Media Services stated, “We at Ogilvy caution publishers not to make site redesign decisions solely on what will improve viewability numbers, since, let’s face it, banners can be annoying to the user. Do physicians need to see ads literally floating across the screen on peer-reviewed journal websites? It’s important to keep the user experience top of mind since alienating HCPs will result in decreased inventory as fewer users come to the site or as fewer pages are viewed.”

For the most part, the medical media leaders agreed that the IAB standard of 70% viewability was a good starting place, but that perhaps we should get all stakeholders together to discuss and agree on this standard. 3% Non-Human Traffic (NHT) was also acceptable to the group.

Robert Enos, Media Director at AbelsonTaylor began the discussion on thresholds, “AbelsonTaylor acknowledges the IAB threshold on the MRC Standard of viewable impressions as a reasonable starting point because advertisers should expect to receive quality performance on digital ad placement, but at a level that is realistic right now. We understand that suppliers [publishers] are working at different levels of technology, inventory and resources and therefore we do not believe a single, highest precedent applied to every campaign we execute today.” He furthered AT’s view by saying, “We are clearly issuing a challenge to suppliers, but AbelsonTaylor accepts these variations for now and will try to negotiate with each supplier to reach a fair exchange for our clients.”

While Leanne Smith, VP of Insights & Analytics at Communications Media, Inc. (CMI) took a more stringent position while reading testimony on behalf of CMI, “We urge that our industry adopt a stance of 70% viewability threshold, which is an advertising industry standard defined by the IAB. We’re taking a stance on viewability because we feel our clients’ dollars should be spent in a way that has an acceptable level of both delivery and real opportunity to be seen.” She concluded her statements with some fairly astounding numbers, “Achieving 70% viewability and less than 3% NHT is indeed possible. In 2014, the average viewability across all CMI campaigns was 47%. Over the course of this year, after much collaboration with publishers, we concluded the year with an average viewability of 69%.” She added, “Education and awareness has moved the needle.”

Eugene Lee, EVP & Managing Director, also at CMI, read testimony that had the support of 174 client individuals, from 19 different companies representing 155 brands and whose total digital display spend is expected to approach $150 million in 2016; the testimony reiterated the 70% viewability threshold and 3% NHT.

Furthermore, Jessica Raico, Group Supervisor of Multichannel Media at SSCG Media Group, urged publishers to consider if the current IAB standards are high enough, since the medical industry is way ahead of the consumer market when it comes to viewability measures. She said, “This is likely attributed to site design, quality of content and low levels of NHT. Viewability will continue to be a key metric for benchmarking campaign success and we caution the AMM from proposing strict guidelines that move backwards from the 70% threshold.” That said, SSCG realizes this is still a transitional time and stressed that they will continue working with publisher partners and the media industry to ensure optimal standards are achieved.

William Veltre, VP of Media for CMI, read the anonymous testimony of a client stating that the ultimate goal should be 100% ad viewability and digital is the only medium that has yet to be able to ensure this. However, at this point in time, Veltre’s client is aligned with CMI’s approach and the 70% viewability threshold.

There was some disagreement about using the highest numbers from an accredited viewability tool when the publisher and advertiser choose to use different vendors to measure viewability. Craig Overpeck said, “We [MDLinx] believe there needs to be a clear standard on which measuring stick will be used for the currency. We all know different technologies generate different counting results and agencies and publishers have their favorites – even ad servers for standard CPM programs still have disparities to this day. Our proposal is to bridge the gap between the in-view counting technologies by selecting the highest accredited in-view number between the two measurement tools if agencies and vendors are using different tools.”

On the other side, Robert Enos said it is not as simple as using the highest numbers from accredited tools, the end game is accuracy, not necessarily “the most.” He also comments, “I believe that while accuracy is still most important, Moat’s suggestion of a 10% variance allowance between measurement results is worth consideration as a starting point to reconcile tool discrepancy.” Eliot Yaxley backed up this opinion, “Moat would always advise people to use the most accurate numbers. The industry acceptable difference is 10%. If the discrepancy is larger than 10%, then a granular reconciliation process should take place, i.e. impressions analyzed by day, site, creative and device (desktop vs. mobile), to see exactly why there is such a large difference.”

Lee Schweizer, Director of e-Business Development at Frontline Medical Communications offered a different solution, “Agencies are losing out on opportunities by not using first-party data on the publisher side. We deliver highly-targeted campaigns, premium inventory, in a finite universe. There are few opportunities for over-delivery. What if the brand’s target audience is falling into the 40% discrepancies that we see among the viewability tools? Publishers need to provide real-time access for campaign billing and analysis, so that we are all on the same page. This essentially mitigates the current variance partners are seeing between viewability analytic platforms.”

Because of the 30-40% discrepancies between viewability tools, it is hard to tell which tool has the most accurate numbers. R.J. Lewis brought up an important point, “MRC accredited viewability tools currently in use have discrepancies of as much as 30% when measuring the same campaign. That’s simply not an acceptable level of accuracy on which to tie payments. Even the MRC, who accredits these vendors, is viewing their own accreditation as a moving target. They are now distinguishing between the ‘general’ and ‘sophisticated’ invalid traffic measurement as they try to get to the root of why different viewability systems that they have accredited, have vastly different numbers (thus indirectly admitting it’s a real problem).”

Michael DiChiara, a Senior Account Executive from the analytics vendor, ONEcount, brought a different perspective urging for further breakdown in analytics to specific HCPs, “If a publisher can demonstrate not just viewability, but also provide a break-out of specific individuals who saw the ad, there is greater trust in the data by both sides.”

Regardless of discrepancy and disagreements on the thresholds, almost everyone in the room pushed for transparency and partnership between publishers and advertisers. Rodney Newby, Director of Ad Operations at Elsevier summed it up for publishers by saying that there needs to be a dialogue between agencies and publishers to determine what works best for specific partners and ad placements.

In her testimony for Compas, Inc., Nicole Woodland, SVP for Buying Services, pushed for supporting and educating publishers by proactively providing them with insight and information. However, she went on to say that Compas is trying to ensure that their media is being run as purchased and they are charged to seek recourse if the agreed upon thresholds are not met. She also said that client expectations have changed and they are calling for more transparency.

On the subject of mobile advertising, in the anonymous client testimony, William Veltre read that we need greater transparency and collaboration with publishers for maximum viewability across the mobile platforms.

Johanna Tompetrini confirmed this position saying, “If you feel that meeting a minimum threshold for viewability requires a higher CPM, then propose it. If the planner thinks it’s reasonable, then great. If not then we’ll try to negotiate. I’m optimistic that reasonable compromises can be made.”

Another consideration in the viewability debate was surrounding SOV and sponsorship placements. Rodney Newby asserted that viewability should not count when it comes to sponsorships. An advertiser is purchasing an exclusive association with premium content. Visitors are there to see the content and if someone sees an ad for less than one second, it may still have value.

Anthony Cutrone, President of Harborside Press, further commented that we are losing sight of the story of the publication. Although he supported developing new guidelines, he commented that while viewability percentage thresholds can work in a CPM model, they do not in a SOV model.

Stephanie Hanaway had a strong stance, as well, “With regard to pricing, a viewable impression is simply a different product from gross impressions, so of course it’s logical that it would be priced differently. Sponsorships and share-of-voice placements are a different product altogether, but it’s evidence of the confusion surrounding this issue that it’s even been a topic of discussion. Certainly viewability can be used to measure sponsorship. But as a currency to factor into billing, it’s simply an impossibility of math and physics.”

R.J. Lewis also added to the argument, “Publishers have a tremendous core competency that advertisers simply don’t have – and that is the ability to attract, engage and retain high quality audiences. If advertisers were successful at doing this on their own, at scale, the need for advertising wouldn’t exist. But it is not their core competency – they rely heavily on the ability to buy those audiences at scale from publishers in order to influence purchase behavior.”

During the Q&A session, at the end of the day, there was banter regarding too many billing procedures, too many viewability vendors, and the overwhelming demand on publisher resources. Eugene Lee also chimed in that agencies are feeling the impact of the increase in the cost of doing business as a result of the new demands of advertisers in regard to viewability. It was stated multiple times that, in the end, the advertisers are going to pay for this increase in resources.

Perhaps James Akhbari, VP of Digital Media from Havas Health was on the right track when he suggested, “We [the leaders of the medical media industry] make up the rule book – we need to think outside the box and outside the IAB standards. He added that we are our own industry and we need to be creative when it comes to digital placements and the standard sizes. Let’s change it!”

According to Lori Raskin, AMM President and Corporate Director at Frontline, the AMM will use the insights from the Congress to finalize its guidance on Viewability Standards after releasing a draft for public commenting in the weeks ahead.

The Congress fostered a dialogue that will surely continue as technologies and measurements evolve. As a future step, the AMM seeks to guide its members though educational sessions that inform and educate while fostering innovation and collaboration that establishes and maintains best practices. On behalf of its core members, who include medical print and digital publishers, medical agencies and their clients, and associate members who supply services to these groups, the AMM intends to use this type of forum in the future to discuss issues and foster common ground.

Get details on AMM events and others throughout 2016, both educational and networking in nature, at the AMM website at