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Even Q’s most ridiculous gadgets of the past Bond films never went so far as presenting 007 with any sort of mind control device.

Perhaps such ideas, whilst hot topics in the late-50s and early-60s, were deemed too absurd for a series that has featured a laser watch, a cigarette that fires a rocket and, of course, an invisible car.

As the Bond franchise marks its 50th anniversary with the film Skyfall, another 50th anniversary – the debunking of subliminal advertising – would no doubt get missed.

In 1962 market researcher James Vicary finally revealed in an Ad Age interview that his 1957 experiments in subliminal advertising were a sham.

Vicary originally claimed that a series of brand related images introduced for fractions of a second into the content of a movie reel significantly increased sales of Coca-Cola and popcorn among cinema goers.

At the time this excited marketers but the unprecedented levels of control over consumers were too frightening for policy makers, so the US Government promptly banned the practice.

Even after Vicary revealed that the test was a gimmick, psychologists have continued working on the theory, but research suggests there is no productive marketing application for the techniques.

For an ad to have application it needs to be persuasive, and the fast flashes of subliminal ads don’t appear long enough to have a measurably influential effect on the viewer.

The debunking of such marketing methods must be borne in mind when assessing the value of half an ad being seen by a real person for one second, the minimum metric the US Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has suggested to establish an online ad as being “viewed”.

The industry body has partnered with the Media Rating Council (MRC) in a new initiative called Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) to tackle the issue of ‘viewability’.

The project has considerable importance, as even the MRC’s best performers in its tests only achieved 78.6% viewability, while the worst case viewability score was just 7.8%.

It’s a worrying statistic, hinting that it’s probably a hell of a lot more than half an online advertiser’s budget that’s being wasted. However, much like a subliminal ad, half an ad being seen for one second doesn’t have the time to be persuasive enough for the ad to have any meaningful effect.

What advertisers should be chasing are not merely glances, but quality ad views.

Users are now more in control of how they interact with brands than they’ve ever been. They’re used to mentally blocking out standard ad formats, having quickly trained themselves in the earliest days of the web to focus on what they really want to consume, the content.

Whether it’s the latest Bond movie, their favourite TV show or a news update on their most checked websites, they’re now used to ignoring the ads around the content. People intentionally skip trailers when they go to the cinema and use devices like Tivo and Sky+ to fast forward through ad breaks on their TV’s.

The online ad industry itself has had its messages ignored as billions of ad campaigns around content have been blighted by banner blindness.

To compensate for consumers’ increasing focus on the content they really want, marketers are moving to “embedded marketing”, placing their brands within the content audiences want to consume.

The most common of these in-content marketing techniques is product placement, so apparent in Skyfall. Such methods maximise viewability because they position brands and products within the content people want to consume, rather than around it.

BMW, Coca-Cola, and Omega watches all lined up to position themselves strategically within the latest James Bond movie to make sure their brands were in view and contextually placed within relevant content.

Dutch beer brand Heineken paid a whopping £28 million to replace the vodka martini as the secret agent’s preferred tipple. The huge budgets committed to such marketing methods demonstrate the importance brands place on viewability of their brands in the offline content consumers desire.

Online marketers need to adapt their digital strategies to take account of the effectiveness of in-content marketing, not just to improve the viewability of their ads, but to tackle the “distractive” nature of most online ad formats.

By using techniques that place marketing messages within content, marketers can ensure that almost all the ads they serve in a campaign will be seen by real people. By devising ads that are technically and creatively engaging they’ll achieve more than a brief flash up on a screen.

We regard the eyeballs cast over online ads as just a part of maximising viewability, even though the ad formats we work with far exceed the current 3MS definition. All of the ad formats we work with are integrated within online content in both technical and contextual respects, whether the content’s text, images or video.

One of the reasons the brand experiences communicated within the Bond movies are successful is that consumers literally had to “buy-in” to the experience, through purchasing a ticket. Likewise to maximise viewability of ads in online content, “buy-in” techniques need to be applied.

Transparently identifying ads in content gives users choice over whether they want to interact with the ad. Ensuring the ads are user-initiated and interactive establishes the buy-in mechanic, so that the branded content consumption that follows the user’s action actually enhances the online experience. The likelihood that users will view an entire online ad rockets when they do so on their own terms.

Digital advertisers need to adapt their strategies and use new formats within contextually relevant content, just like the marketers that placed their brands in Bond. Not only will they achieve levels of brand viewability never before achieved online, they’ll benefit from appropriate associations with complementary online content and their brands will be viewed as enhancements to consumers’ online experience.

Tom Pepper

Published 7 December, 2012 by Tom Pepper

Tom Pepper is UK MD at Vibrant Media and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can folliow Tom on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

4 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

Nathan Levi

Nathan Levi, Head of Performance Marketing at TotallyMoney.comSmall Business Multi-user

I think most of us in the industry want the viewable impression metric. The challenge remains in getting publishers to serve ads using javascript, not iframe. Publishers need an incentive to do this. Many of them are getting away with selling inventory which doesn't have any value right now. As an advertiser I'd be more than happy to pay higher CPMs for impressions which are actually 'in view'. We may then get to a point where we can understand the true value of display in our media mix and make post view metrics worth more than what they currently stand for (which is nothing).

almost 4 years ago


Alex Bruce-Smith

Tom and Nathan both bring up good points, for what is the point of an ad if no one even sees it? Encouraging consumers 'to buy' into the experience a la James Bond is one good way to ensure their attention, but if you want to measure it, there's EyeTrackShop's realCPM (www.realCPM.com) which shows you exactly what the consumer sees (how long they look at ads for, if they see it, how much etc). As an industry we need to develop a new standard for measurement in online ad effectiveness.

Also, I'd disagree that people skip the cinema ads before a movie - sometimes they're the best bit!

almost 4 years ago

Nathan Levi

Nathan Levi, Head of Performance Marketing at TotallyMoney.comSmall Business Multi-user

Alex - realCPM is still based on panel data and eye tracking which is going to be less unreliable at best.

almost 4 years ago

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