SQUEEZE IS ON
Viewability changes and ad-blocking pressure media revenues
ADVERTISER refusal to pay for digital ads that go unseen, coupled with the rising popularity of so-called ad-blocker software, has increased pressure on media sector revenues.
Leading buyer GroupM has signed major media houses to guarantees that advertisers will be charged only for digital advertising seen by the reader.
Every digital ad must be on screen for at least one second under the agreement, which originated in the United States and has swept through the Australian and Canadian markets in recent weeks.
Rules for video marketing are reported to be even stricter – the user must press play, at least half the ad’s duration must play and the sound must be turned on. Pre-roll or automated video – the type commonly seen while scrolling through social media – will have no commercial value under the guarantee.
Fairfax Media and News Corp Australia are among the top media players to agree to the deal, effectively overturn- ing a domestic market standards agreement established by the local Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which had stipulated 50 per cent exposure – known in the industry as viewability – was sufficient.
GroupM, the biggest media buying agency in the world and part of the WPP conglomerate that owns media assets, ad agencies and PR companies, has been working to develop the rules for the past 18 months. It consulted top US advertisers, media companies and standard organisations such as the US Media Ratings Council and an industry group called Making Measurement Make Sense.
It will use a US-based verification company, Moat, to police the standard. Its chief trading officer in Canada, Neil Johnston, is quoted as saying the issue was “almost more important than the rate for placements”.
Other media-buying agencies are likely to apply the same pressure. IPG Mediabrands has been running an initiative called Project Quality, which is aimed at creating transparency of exposure across individual websites and advertising exchanges.
A further concern for media agencies has been the proliferation of so-called bots, which mimic audience engagement and corrupt reports on how many times a digital advertisement has been seen.
A third front confronting news publishers is the rising use of ad blocking, which has gained additional traction following support for blocking software on the latest iPhone.
The US media watcher and consultancy, NiemanLab, recently ran a snap poll of news consumers on Twitter and found 50 per cent use ad blocking software.
According to PageFair – an organisation that surveys ad blocking in partnership with Adobe – use of ad-blockers rose 41 per cent for the year to June, 2015. It estimated there were 198 million users globally and the economic cost could be as high as $US21.8 billion.
A campaign to encourage advertisers to improve the quality of their advertising, and consequently dissuade users from blocking ads, is being waged by WAN-Ifra, the global newspaper body.
Its recent action day in Germany revealed 86 per cent of those who block ads are male, almost one-third of those who deploy the software fear malware within the ad, and half are aged 50-plus.
Its goal to diminish the impact of ad-blocking by improving the quality of advertising is supported by another global industry body, INMA (the International News Media Association). Its president, Mark Challinor, told The Bulletin: “We can’t keep doing the same things and expecting acceptance, especially in a new digital age. Millennials are growing up with a bar raised much higher than their parents experienced in terms of what they can expect from the world around them – including advertising and publishing.”
Mr Challinor said there was a “need for everyone in the chain to enhance the messaging and provide better quality creative that was engaging and valued”.
“If we all want consumers to see and value our ads, we need to show some respect for what they require and give them ads that are relevant, creative and interesting – not intrusive.”
The views of INMA and WAN-Ifra do not go unchallenged by sceptics of this philosophy. Mobile expert David Murphy, editor of Mobile Marketing Magazine in the UK, said the “genie is out of the bottle – consumers know they can block ads”.
The CEO of The Newspaper Works, Mark Hollands, said publishers risked commercial relationships if they were seen to be too high-handed. “We are experiencing a fascinating and expensive tussle between the user experience and the com- mercial imperative to monetise digital audiences.
“Telling clients to make better ads or else will not win friends. I don’t see a situation where a market-standard ad will be refused by any publisher on the principle we’re talking about.”
Several media companies have already executed strategies to thwart ad-blockers.
Yahoo! stops users accessing their email account until their ad-blocker is removed, The
Washington Post and CNet terminate content delivery while others scramble the typography so the site is impossible to read.
Wired has just launched a $3.99-a-week subscription to a site that promises to be free of ads.
At Fairfax Media, its push into content marketing is seen as one of several strategies to ease pressure on metrics while meeting client needs.
Simon Smith, managing director the company’s content marketing studio MADE, said: “We are going hard at producing good quality content for clients. That should resonate well with audiences and avoid issues such as ad blocking. It’s not a silver bullet but it will certainly help.”