A new study has tossed viewability benchmarks to the jury, finding that a display ad needs to be on screen for at least 14 seconds to have any chance of even being “looked at”.

Using technology such as eye-tracking, the stark findings come from research on nearly 4,300 consumers by InSkin Media, Research Now and Sticky, identifying the relationship between viewability, gaze time, ad clutter and people’s ability to remember ads.

Of the ads dubbed ‘viewable’ by commonly-held industry standards – 50% of pixels on screen for at least one second – the study found an entire quarter (25%) never receive so much as a glance. In fact, just a 42% portion of ads received a view of over a second, while a third receive gaze time of less than a second, resulting in the average time a ‘viewable’ ad is actually looked at being just 0.7 seconds.

Size matters

For those looking to optimise for views, however, the study contained some (perhaps obvious) kernels of advice. As seen in the graph below, the larger the ad, the higher the viewability rates are likely to be. ‘Takeovers’ hit the mark for both gaze time (7.5 seconds) and ad recall (52%), while ‘billboards’ follow with about half the overall effectivity, while ‘half-page’ and ‘MPU’ formats lag behind.

There’s no quick fix in quantity however; the study also finds that ad clutter has a negative impact on how long people look at ads and their ability to remember them, with gaze time dropping 37% across ad formats in “cluttered scenarios”. Ad recall drops around 20% in the same situation, with takeover formats exempt.

A display advertising campaign should be judged in three stages, according to Steve Doyle, InSkin Media’s CCO; whether the ad had the opportunity to be seen, was it actually looked at and the resulting impact it had.

“It should be judged and optimised against the last stage [impact] but the focus on viewability means campaigns are increasingly optimised against the first stage [opportunity] which can be counter-productive to maximising impact.”

“Why? Smaller formats have higher ‘opportunity to be seen’ rates as their size means it’s easier to hit viewability thresholds – but gaze time is very low. Thus, it’s optimising on low engagement and low impact,” said Doyle.

For companies trading on current benchmarks, such as promises of ‘100% viewability’, the results of the study should be particularly worrying.

“If we were to go into a supermarket and buy a packet of 24 wheat biscuits, we would expect for the box to contain all 24 servings. After purchasing, if we were told that there were only 18 in the box, we, as consumers, would be outraged,” said Forensiq’s director of communications, Julia Smith, in an article for PerformanceIN.

“If we were then also told that 10 of the remaining 18 servings were not made of wheat but an artificial non-food product, there would be uproar in the food aisles.”