Making the Most of Digital Impressions

It can be a sweet deal when you are at the forefront of technology. Just imagine that you have sole ownership of The Next Big Thing. Everyone wants it, needs it, and with just a little bit of marketing, must have it. Even sweeter, your offering is so advanced, so cutting edge, that it will be several years before the industry figures out how to measure it properly (much less what it’s real value is).

What Qualifies as a Billable Digital Impression?

The scenario I just described is taking place in the world of digital advertising as we speak. True, the first banner ad ran over twenty years ago, but advertisers are spending more on digital ads than ever before. In fact, researchers have predicted that spending on online advertising will equal spending on television ads by 2019. Mobile ad spending rose by 72% in 2014 alone.

But until recently, not even the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) and the MRC (Media Research Council) agreed on what constitutes a viable (billable) digital impression. Today, the IAB and MRC agree on the standard for display:

  • 50% of an ad’s pixels must be in view for one second.
  • For video, half of the pixels must be in view for two seconds.

In either scenario: if I blink, I miss it.

Established Metrics for Qualifying Impressions

With television and radio, the method of counting impressions is well established: if your set is turned on, you are considered to be exposed to the message. The advertiser, in effect, pays for historical audience or estimated/anticipated audience. Once the schedule is booked, either the spot(s) run or they are pre-empted and do not run.

The advertiser price is the same, regardless of how many people actually see or hear the spot. Media vendors don’t give back money if the audience is less than anticipated (although vendors do give makegoods, bonus, or other compensatory weight to address shortfalls).

Moving From Historical To Real-Time Data

The construct for television ratings, radio ratings, print etc., is all based on past, historical data; the premise for viewability, however, is based on real time, right now, in-the-moment information rather than the statistical aggregating prevalent in traditional media.

Layer on top of that the fact that television ratings measure content ratings for the programming itself—not the audience delivered within the pod of commercial announcements.

How Can Marketers Adapt?

According to a November 2014 study by Integral Ad Science, only 22% of Agencies, Brands, Marketers and Trading Desks agree with the viewability standard set by the IAB and MRC. In comparison, 61% of Ad Networks, DSPs, Exchanges, Publishers and SSPs approve of these standards. It comes as no surprise that sellers are less concerned about viewability than buyers.

Regardless of these limitations, there are many ways marketers can adapt to the changing landscape and evolving standards of digital advertising.

Make every second count.

Don’t beat around the bush. If most of your audience will only see your ad for a second or two, make those seconds memorable.

Here’s a comparison example: you have a DVR and routinely fast forward through commercial pods and breaks. Even at the fastest speeds, you’re still exposed to brand identification—even though you may not receive the nuances of the ad. Savvy marketers capitalize on that. Your digital ads should send strong, clear brand messages to all members of your audience, regardless of their level of engagement.

Similarly, pre-roll videos on Youtube can be skipped by the viewer after five seconds. The more memorable you make those first five seconds, the more likely people are to continue watching. Even if viewers decide to skip through the ad, you still have an opportunity to expose them to your company’s name, logo, and basic brand messaging.

Spend on networks you trust.

Different ad networks provide different data to customers. Display networks typically provide information like CPM and click-through-rates. But sometimes, the data you do get isn’t valid—namely, if networks are engaging in ad fraud, using click bots to send NHT (non-human traffic) to your site. Make sure you’re placing digital ads with a reputable network that provides useful, valid data about your ad spend.

Alternatively, marketers can place more dollars into paid ads and promoted content on sites like Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Among the benefits of social media marketing is the ability to see relevant data and track the effectiveness of every cent of your campaign.


Although brands are spending an unprecedented amount on digital advertising, the majority of agencies and marketers are dissatisfied with the current standards for viewability. But that hasn’t kept people from spending more and more on digital advertising each year. Until the standards for billable digital impressions change, marketers can make the most of their online ad spend by buying thorough trusted networks and crafting a quick, clear, and memorable brand message. A great digital ad campaign fits into the ever-changing online experience and makes a lasting impression in the blink of an eye.