A version of this article first appeared in Target Marketing.

When I sat down to write about the evolution of key ad metrics, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how the definitions of words change over time. It dawned on me that, while oftentimes the definitions don’t necessarily change, they do take on new meaning. Think about words like “sick,” “nice,” “sweet,” and “nasty”—their meanings have changed because people started using them in new ways.

Digital media is not immune to this phenomenon. We live in a world where KPIs change and meanings of those KPIs change depending on who you ask.

Two examples of KPIs facing evolving meanings are viewabilty and video completion rate.


When the idea of viewability was introduced about three years ago, it was thought of as a metric—some would even call it a vanity metric. It was seen as something you measured alongside impressions and clicks. The first legitimate definition of viewability came from the IAB in 2014, which stated that “a display ad is viewable if 50% or more of its pixels appear on-screen for at least one second.”

Fast-forward to now. While the IAB’s definition of viewability hasn’t changed, what viewability means to the industry has. 

Last year, when GroupM announced that it would have a strict viewability standard of 100%, they immediately changed how anyone working with the world’s largest media investment group thinks about viewability. The same thing has happened industry-wide: viewability is no longer just a metric but rather a standard—it's a primary campaign KPI and, in some places, a currency. GroupM was like the Vine video using the term “on fleek,” and the rest of us are the industry professionals left trying to figure out how to properly work this phrase into conversation. (For the record, I’m a millennial and I still don’t know.)

Viewability is complex because it proves that while we may not all be speaking the same language, we are essentially saying the same thing: advertisers should only have to pay for ads that are actually viewed by humans.

In some ways, the meaning of viewability is a matter of linguistics and philosophy, and it’s a question of how closely we should link the two disciplines. To be successful agency partners, we must understand that GroupM’s standard is not the same as Cadreon’s which is not the same as Accuen’s. Some campaigns look for 100% viewability, some look for 50%, some for two seconds, and some for one second—but while the meaning may differ, the basic philosophy behind the purpose of viewability remains the same.

Video Completion Rate

Video completion rate might seem to be a more straightforward KPI, but it’s actually another example of a shifting metric that is more complex than originally thought.

Video completion rate is no longer just the ratio of completed views to video views. It has evolved. Some agencies still calculate it based on the full length of the video, some consider three seconds in to be a full video view, and some look at the percent viewed by non-human traffic versus human traffic.

If a publisher boasts that they have “high completion rates,” they must understand that this is no longer a linear metric. How will you stack up when your client is only willing to pay you on a cost-per-completed-view basis? 

Planning for the KPIs of Tomorrow

Today, some campaigns measure “non-human traffic,” but tomorrow could they decide that they’re only willing to pay vendors on this metric? If a campaign measures how “on-target” your demographic targeting truly is, how could this evolve into something bigger? 

To speak the same language, we must listen, think, and only then build. Listen to third-party measurement companies and agency clients. Think about how we, as partners, stack up against varied meanings of the same KPI. And build products and content that support these multiple meanings—which will, in turn, help us better prepare for the KPIs of tomorrow.

Get in touch to learn how PCH/Media can help you hit your KPIs and crush your goals.