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The Digital Scam

September 15, 2022

Since the dawn of the digital age, we have been told that online ads are the great panacea that will solve every advertising challenge. To be sure, digital marketing has its place. Ranking high in a search is a must for any business. There is merit to the targetability of social media ads.

Then along comes this MediaPost article as reported on by Inside Radio. Here’s the money quote: The research conducted across Yahoo’s digital properties showed that 53% of all ad formats studied, while meeting viewability standards, generated less than one second of active attention.

Before we parse this a bit further, let’s get into a couple of definitions that will put this study into perspective.

A viewable impression – when a display ad or video is counted as viewable – is when at least 50% of the ad is visible for one second.

An impression is counted when an ad is sent (or served) to a publisher by the ad server. Here’s the fun part: the ad creative may or may not be downloaded to the user’s device, rendered, or viewed by the user.

So, in summary, your clients are likely paying for impressions that no one sees. Study after study shows that there are millions – if not billions – of dollars that are quite literally wasted in the digital space. We already know that the click-thru rate for display ads is abysmally low – even lower than the desired return rate for direct mail.

Yet, day after day, radio sellers are facing serious pushback from advertisers on the effectiveness of radio. These same advertisers are spending significant portions of their ad budgets on digital display.

How, as an industry, are we forced to play defense while the digital world gets a free pass? Imagine the outrage that would ensue if we said a radio ad is “heard” if someone only listens for one second. (Hmmm…maybe there’s a new spot length here…)

I realize we are walking over a well-trod path. This debate has been raging for a long time. Unfortunately, this is an area where the radio industry has let the digital industry win the public relations battle.

Yes, digital advertising is precisely trackable. You can measure clicks and site visits and purchases all from a dashboard. Radio only provides “estimates” (Nielsen’s definition of ratings). We also know that radio has a spot load problem. No advertiser wants to be the seventh unit in a twelve-minute stop set.

That said – radio is not guilty of fraud. Spots run at exact times. People are listening. Advertisers get everything that they are paying for (plus added value, right?).

We need to confront this reality. Not by bashing digital; that is a losing argument. We should be asking advertisers how much of their digital spend is wasted. Do they know where every ad is served? Are they comfortable with the fact that some of their digital spend is never even seen?

Radio is accountable for what it provides. Why can’t digital media be held to the same standard?

You can read the MediaPost study here.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant