This week comScore announced the launch of its first ad-verification tool called ‘Validated Campaign Essentials’, alongside a suggestion that over a third of ad impressions on the web are never even seen.

It’s not surprising that’s there’s waste, but the sheer volume of this claim - and the fact that it's been validated by data from 12 leading brands - is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

comScore says that with the launch of this tool, it’s now able to provide advertisers with an analysis of which ads in an online campaign are viewed online. The software only tracks display ads on computers, not on smartphones or tablets, and for ads to be deemed 'in-view' they must be viewable for at least one second.

Working with 12 "national premium brands” in the US (across 3,000 placements, 381,000 site domains and 1.7 billion ad impressions) comScore found that in many cases, ads are delivered but not in-view or on target and therefore never have a chance to make an impact.

Those taking part included Chrysler, Discover, Ford, Kellogg's, Kraft and Sprint. All of the impressions analysed in the study were delivered in iframes and none required publisher site pixels.

Of 69% of ads that were found to be ‘in-view’, 31% of online display ads weren't seen by users. Sometimes the ads appeared below the fold and users don't scroll down the webpage far enough to see them. Other times ads that are placed above the fold are scrolled past before they have had a chance to load.

Again, this doesn't exactly highlight a new issue - but the scale is notable.

On a positive note, the survey also highlighted that just 4% of impressions were wasted on those in the wrong geographic location or where a product wasn't even available. However, inappropriate display ad placements (classified as something harmful to brand reputation) were evident in almost three-quarters (72%) of campaigns.

President and CEO of comScore Dr. Magid Abraham explained that the display advertising market today is characterised by an overabundance of inventory, often residing on parts of a web page that are never viewed by the user. This dilutes the impact of campaigns for advertisers and represents a drag on prices to publishers.

Conversely, some ads below the fold are quite visible and deserve more credit. Ultimately, this type of third-party validation will help identify and appropriately price the proportion of online ad inventory that delivers value, improve buying and selling decisions, and instill more confidence and trust in the industry."

Vikki Chowney

Published 20 January, 2012 by Vikki Chowney

Vikki is head of community at TMW. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+

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Comments (7)

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Peter Gould

Peter Gould, Senior PPC Analyst at Epiphany

30% does feel like an incredibly high figure, but I'm not hugely surprised by it.

The way users browse content on display sites will be so different to search engines as an obvious comparison.

Take a newspaper website with display ads on as an example - if you land on that page to read a specific article, it's very rare that you're looking out for anything else on that page except the text.

I think this just serves to reinforce that display advertisers should be using a CPC payment model instead of a CPM model, if they're not already. That way you can ensure that you're only paying for users that are interacting with your ad, and any other impressions around that, that cause a user to take notice (if only at an impression basis instead of by click) should be seen as a bonus that don't incur a cost.

over 6 years ago

John Kimbell

John Kimbell, Managing Partner at Navigate Digital

Peter - I agree that the figures aren't all that surprising but advertisers switching from CPM to CPC on all display activity is a pipe dream.

Yes, in an ideal world a CPC trading model on all display buys would make it an ultra efficient channel but the reality is that outside of the likes of Struq the Google Display Network and some other networks, this model isn't feasible on standard display activity and CPM's have to be paid to ensure a (consistent) presence on specific, premium sites.

Until such time that this changes, it is the responsibility of agencies to find the right blend of efficient platforms/trading models and to plan and manage campaigns properly to ensure that they do all they can to ensure any wastage is minimised.

over 6 years ago



It's incredible to be in discussion about the CPM versus CPC pricing model in 2012 yet!
Well, CPC model depends on the creativities as we know. What's kind of responsability could the publisher have about them? In my opinion, if 31% are really "ghost" the problem is not the pricing model but, probably, the old IAB standard and some great restrictions imposed by the publisher in terms of spaces.

over 6 years ago

Philippa Gamse

Philippa Gamse, Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School

Vikki, one thing that I've never been clear about is where ads that are blocked by adblockers figure in all of this. If I'm running an adblocker in my browser, how is that reported? Is it possible that those are also part of the impressions that are never actually seen?

over 6 years ago

Peter Gould

Peter Gould, Senior PPC Analyst at Epiphany

@John - That's a very fair point. I should probably revise my comment to say that 'in an ideal world, advertisers should be using a CPC payment model instead of a CPM model'.

Like you say, if you want to feature on certain sites, CPM may well be the only option for the visibility required.

Let's hope this does change in the future - I look forward to the day when display can be measured as precisely as other areas of online advertising such as search.

over 6 years ago


Stewart Emerson, Managing Director at Facilitate Digital

Comscore's results are very similar to the results we found in 2011 for ad impression visibility across major European markets, we arrived at a figure of 34% of ads as never viewed.

More details of this study can be found at:

over 6 years ago



I find the definition of "seen" to be curious. I would suggest the (grammatically impaired) term "see-able" instead.

If 69 percent are "see-able" in the browser, how many are actually seen and register in any way in the user's mind?

And how many display ads are seen, through peripheral vision, as a display ad and are consciously or sub-consciously ignored?

about 6 years ago

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