Online advertising’s solution

eyesMediaPost’s comical commentator George Simpson took on an issue Friday that deserves further review. The matter of “Viewability” is hotly debated in advertising circles, and Simpson, well, had a little fun with that. He faked attendance at a conference in Phoenix, and his post is a memo to his boss (at NBC).

Christ, what a shitstorm. Apparently in the world of Internet advertising, you can buy an ad and even if no one sees it, you still have to pay for it.

…on the one side you have advertisers telling Web publishers to prove that the ads they’re selling appear on users’ screens — as opposed to parts of Web pages that people never actually see. On the other side, you have the head IAB guy (from CBS — figures, right?) saying that if 70% of ads are viewable, everybody should relax and have a Coke. Meanwhile, you have these agency guys saying they are not happy unless all 100% of the ads they buy can be seen. Over in the corner, the ad-tech vendors are saying that 100% ain’t possible.

It was GREAT. Almost made me forget about Brian (Williams) for a few minutes.

…The fact is that nobody sees every ad in any medium. But the Internet wove that sackcloth coat they’re wearing with all that talk about accountability. Lol, as they say.

Simpson’s column is hilarious, but the many comments left are not. Viewability is the Holy Grail of the digital era, but the advertising industry is built on the mass marketing reality that Simpson notes above — that “nobody sees every ad in any medium.” All of the examples he uses are from the mass media playbook. Remember that it’s a one-to-many playground, where Wanamaker’s dilemma is played out (here’s an interesting take on that from today). Frankly, there’s so much money at stake here that nobody REALLY wants to take a chance on something different. This is why 100% viewability remains a difficult task. Remember also, the wonderful observation by NYU’s Clay Shirky, “Institutions will always try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

But the REAL problem for the institution of advertising is that the Web can deliver one-to-one advertising in ways we’ve never known before. This is not mass marketing with all of its cute terms and acronyms, so I disagree with the “experts” that 100% viewability is impossible given current technology. Folks, it ain’t the technology that’s the problem; it’s the application of technology.

Here’s the solution that nobody will embrace (remember: too much money): Approach consumers individually (via cookie or whatever) and let what I call the “browser view” determine advertising, and this is especially important for mobile. When somebody clicks on a Facebook (or other social media) link (currently the default behavior of consumers) and in so doing comes to visit your Content Management System (CMS), respect them. Only one ad. One. And that ad can be anywhere in that browser view, which guarantees “viewability.” It ain’t rocket science, my friends, but it does require a different approach to marketing.

For video advertising, see youTube. They wrote and continue to write the book. Every time I wish to watch a video anywhere, my automatic response is to head for the “Skip This Ad” feature.