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Elevating Viewability Standards for Pharma Advertisers

Digital Media Viewability Standards Fall Short of True Accountability

By Marc Benjamin


A healthy debate has engaged digital media circles concerning the Interactive Advertising Bureau(IAB)’s ever-evolving standards for viewability of paid media advertising. In Rx pharma, given the urgency of the messaging coupled with inherent legal and regulatory constraints, maximizing every impression is especially important.  The IAB’s State of Viewability Transaction concluded that advertisers should require that media vendors guarantee that 70% of served impressions are actually viewable on the user’s screen, triggering a round of buzz. While publishers point to flaws in the economic sustainability of the guidance, others (notably the AAAA) have criticized it as a half-measure institutionalizing a 30% “vapor view” factor as legitimate marketing currency.

According to the guidelines, cost-per-thousand (CPM)-based media contracts should stipulate that advertisers receive a makegood in the form of additional viewable impressions for anything less than 70% viewability delivered.

The IAB statement offers the following helpful example: “…a campaign delivers 10,000,000 Served Impressions; of those Served Impressions, 8,000,000 were Measurable; of the Measured impressions, 5,000,000 (62.5%) were Viewable. In this case, the publisher would need to deliver 600,000 additional Viewable Impressions to reach the 70% threshold and makegood. The agency will be billed for 10,000,000 impressions assuming full makegood.”

Should Pharma Advertisers Adopt the IAB Standard?

A landmark Google whitepaper, “The Importance of Being Seen: Viewability Insights for Digital Marketers and Publishers”, concluded that 56% of impressions sold are not seen. By this standard, a 70% threshold represents an improvement to the average. Google also points out that a small number of publishers are serving most of the non-viewable impressions, and there are controllable best practices to optimize viewability (i.e. vertical position, ad size, placement above/below fold, depth of competition, etc).

The Association of Medical Media states, “While the IAB standards and guidance are vital reference points, professional medical media differs from consumer media in several aspects. Medical publishers are held to the highest ethical standards, so fraud is all but non-existent. Medical specialty audiences are extremely small, so ad inventory is extremely limited. And advertising is subject to regulation that can tightly dictate when an ad can and can’t appear, making some of the IAB standards impractical to facilitate.”

That said, while I recommend that viewable impressions be an important consideration, I see limited value in settling on a 70% threshold, and makegood impressions are often not practical for pharma marketers as they can be used to artificially extend an advertiser’s time commitment to underperforming publishers. When budgets are held to productivity goals and placements are measured and actively managed, 100% should be attainable, so the 70% guidelines can even provide an incentive to take the easy way out and settle for less than stellar placements. Publishers unwilling or unable to make a 100% commitment are then in a weakened negotiating position with respect to cost-per-thousand (CPM).

In short, the IAB’s guidelines are helpful to improve accountability and minimize wasteful campaigns industry-wide, but limited in ambition and narrow in their practical application for performance-based healthcare campaigns.

Wanting more digital pharma insight? Access my whitepaper for examples of current best practices, case studies and anecdotes illustrating real-world applications of all 8 principals for digital pharma marketing success.

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