Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Attention matters: a guide for brands and agencies

by Jennifer Richards, group commercial lead, Hawk Platform

The digital media, marketing and advertising industry is constantly looking for new and ever-more accurate ways to measure how effective marketing activity is in order that players on both the buy and the sell side can fine-tune their operations – optimise planning and buying, define audiences, and evaluate the partners they work with.

Attention is one of the newer kids on the measurement block; it has been touted as a potential option in some form or another for some time but has been (and still is, to some degree) held back because it is difficult to determine accurately. And even as companies make strides in resolving this, there is still no standard, no way to compare like with like.  However, that doesn’t mean media planners and buyers can afford to put it on the back burner.

What is attention?

What do we mean by attention in the context of advertising?  Very simply, it’s the length of time that someone spent looking at an ad. It differs from viewability (and is more powerful) because an ad being in view doesn’t mean it has been seen.

How is it measured?

Eye-tracking is a key component of most attention measurement solutions, with cameras for this purpose tracing the path of someone’s gaze as it moves round the screen.  (Front-facing   cameras on smartphones are simplifying the process.) This is often undertaken with a panel of participants that have consented to engage with digital content and have their reactions measured on an ongoing basis.

The eye-tracking technology might follow how they view a publisher’s website – and the ads on it – which parts and for how long, for example. This is often combined with a survey to determine ad recall and how likely it is that someone will buy something having seen an ad.

A machine learning model crunches the data gathered from the eye-tracking research and learns to predict the type of content that will engage people.

What results are we seeing?

Several players are conducting in-depth studies to determine whether the attention, or dwell, time (the length of time an ad was actually looked at) is a useful measure to predict brand and performance outcomes.  And the results leave little doubt that it is.

Playground xyz for example, in its white paper ‘Attention time: Redefining how marketers measure and optimise ads in real time’ recorded that, for one campaign, attention time of under 10 seconds led to 30% awareness; this increased to 52% with an attention time of 10-20 seconds, and to 67% when the attention time was more than 20 seconds.

When it comes to recall, the results show the same trend – 48% recall for up to 10 seconds attention time, 52% for 10-20 seconds, and 76% for more than 20 seconds.

Why is this important?

Attention is a full funnel metric.  It enables brands to make informed choices about design and creatives because they know which ads push people through the purchase decision-making process. It can also help advertisers gauge the relationship between ads and outcomes – for example determining how much attention an ad needs to drive the desired outcome.

Better and more accurate ways to define and measure audiences and determine the effectiveness of ad campaigns have been a core element of online advertising since its early days.  Attention metrics are the next evolution.

And they come at a time when the industry faces challenges from all sides – and not just within the sector with issues such as the impending loss of the third-party cookie.  The cost-of-living crisis seems likely to put additional pressure on advertising budgets; brands must also consider how their programmatic advertising activity is contributing to climate change, formulate wider strategies and policies to off-set this, and maximise efficiencies across all digital advertising activity to reduce wastage.  Metrics such as attention, which help brands reach the right people at the right time and in the right context with their ads, can and should play a key role in this.

What now?

It is early days – and there is no denying that a lack of standard methodology is hampering the widespread adoption of attention metrics.  In addition, discussion and practice is currently focused on mobile and desktop, but as the industry increasingly embraces omnichannel, there is a need for attention to be taken cross-channel.

However, even against this backdrop, the topic is being widely debated – indicating that there is potentially enough industry will to make its widespread adoption a reality.

Brands and advertisers would be wise to take note now, to get involved to help shape the discussion, and ensure that they are not left behind as the marketing world’s attention turns to attention.