By Sung Shin

ComScore’s Digital Future In Focus Report for 2013 states that 31% of ad impressions aren’t seen online. When you couple this with faulty last-touch attribution modes, that’s downright scary in a world where so many advertisers are looking for direct response metrics to measure their digital strategies. This stat provides a significant opportunity to intentionally or unintentionally game the system.

Why is that?

With last-touch attribution, driving down eCPA is less about the effectiveness of the campaign and more about who drops the last cookie. But how do cookies get dropped? Via pixel fires. And how do pixels fire? In the order the page loads. Intentionally gamed impressions aside, the cheaper stuff – the stuff at the bottom of the page that is in less demand and less likely to ever be seen – gets the chance to fire the last pixel.

The technology and attribution model then rewards those impressions with a conversion. When I employ a cheap and deep strategy, I can reach a large portion of the population with inventory that has a large probability of not being seen but will still drop a cookie. If I have a cookie on a large portion of the population, AND I happen to be firing the last pixels on a majority of the pages, I’m bound to turn up the proverbial needle in a haystack pretty regularly.

Honestly, I believe many of these so-called optimization algorithms create what amounts to a feedback loop of B.S. It’s garbage in/garbage out. It’s not the computer’s fault. The algorithms are just doing their job. It’s the people that control the algorithms that are forcing them to answer the wrong questions. The algorithms will naturally reward the gamers and value the sludge at the bottom of the barrel because based on what it sees as the last cookie drop, those are the ones that it deems most effective.

Media planners will then reward that partner and assign more budget to the incorrectly deflated eCPAs, which unintentionally gives those line items the opportunity to drop more cookies on more garbage. Ad infinitum… I can play that game easily. I can drive down the KPI based in faulty measurement. But measure what really counts – the actual effectiveness of the campaign, and I would fail miserably.

Viewability matters. Nowhere else does the old philosophical question of “when the tree falls and no one hears it” have a clear cut answer than in advertising. If no one saw your ad, I’m sorry, no one heard it, and it wasn’t effective.

How do we fix this?

First, we need to start incorporating viewability metrics into the attribution models. There’s a lot of work going on around currency standards and cost per view metrics, but there needs to be backend metrics around this as well – an effective Cost per Acquisition from Viewed Impressions.

Second, we need to continue to push for assessments of efficacy of advertising higher up the funnel. Are you driving awareness? Intent to purchase? These are harder to gauge, yes. But as an industry, our attempt to validate our existence based off the easy to measure metrics is a cop-out and ultimately a waste of all of our clients’ monies.