Marketing Definitions: Impressions

Welcome to the latest edition of our new weekly blog series, Marketing Definitions. Each week, we will identify an oft-used term or phrase in the marketing community and break down its use and meaning for the broader population.

Last week’s term that we defined was Lifetime Value.

Today’s Term = Impressions

Impressions, broadly, are the number of times your ad gets shown. Each impression is one chance your ad has to be seen.

Seems simple enough, right? Well, the last couple of years has seen a fight in the advertising industry to redefine the term, or at least devalue its importance.

Let me explain. In online advertising, display or banner advertising more specifically, advertisers pay based on the number of impressions. Ads are priced as a “cost per thousand”, written as CPM. So if an ad has a $10 CPM, the advertiser pays $10 for every thousand impressions.

But here’s the problem – not every impression gets seen. Some ad blockers will block an ad from being seen but they will still register an impression. And some ads show up below the visible part of the page. So impressions don’t always equal, in fact rarely ever equal, views. And that is a fact that not every advertiser understands, and most agree isn’t fair.

So an impression just means the ad is served. It has a chance to be seen. Whether it is seen or not by the intended audience, who’s to say.

That does it for today’s definition. Have a term you’d like defined in a future post? Email us or post it in the comments below.

What are Impressions?

In the world of advertising, the word impressions is used to signal when an ad is shown. It started strictly in online advertising, but has since been used commonly for almost all forms of advertising to describe the number of people who see an ad.

The number of impressions your ad gets, most commonly, is the number of times your ad is shown to a consumer. But impressions can mean different things in different contexts, and there is some debate over how we should count impressions versus how we do it today.

For example, in online advertising, an impression is counted when an ad is displayed. That could mean the ad is displayed on a part of the page that never gets viewed. Or in the case of rotating ads, multiple ads get displayed even though the visitor only sees one or another.

Therefore there is a push in the ad industry to only measure “viewed” or “viewable” impressions. But today, we count every impression the same.

You can also further segment impressions to “unique impressions”. If the same person sees your ad 4 times, that might count as 4 impressions, but only 1 unique impression. Depending on what you’re advertising, you might want to maximize unique impressions rather than just total number, so your ad reaches more people.

With most display advertising, and other ad platforms that are not “cost per click”, advertisers pay based on the number of impressions. So your goal as an advertiser will be to get the most high-quality impressions for your investment, where high-quality might mean viewable, or targeted at the right people to generate the best response (mostly clicks).