Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Roundtable recap: attention turns to contextual advertising

Does contextual advertising require new methods of measurement and attribution? Is attention-based measurement the key to assessing the impact of contextual campaigns?

New Digital Age, in association with Smartframe Technologies, recently hosted a roundtable discussion of these issues and more. NDA editor Justin Pearse hosted the conversation, where he was joined by: Daniel Sichel, EMEA Hub and Performance Lead, Zenith; Rebecca Burchnall, Chief Planning Officer, PHD; Lydia Martin, Media Strategist, The Kite Factory; Steve Taylor, Chief Strategy Officer, VCCP Media; Tamar Ayres, Digital Team Lead, The7Stars; Emma Moorhead, General Manager, Wavemaker UK; Freddy Clapson, Executive Director & Global Head of Programmatic, team x; plus Andy Ashley, Global Marketing Director, and Gregor Smith, Global Advertising Sales Director, both of Smartframe Technologies.

Taylor believes that contextual advertising may potentially offer a route out of “the dreadful pickle” that display advertising has got itself into, cluttering digital screens with ineffective ads.

“Digital display has traditionally been measured in terms of media delivery, so we focus on metrics like viewability rather than think much about what the ad actually achieves.  One thing about ‘contextual’ and the whole debate around attention is that it makes you rethink, what is the ad doing? Rather than ask simply whether people have seen an ad or paid attention to it, we need to establish if it has persuaded anybody or changed any behaviour.

“Contextual represents a return to good old fashioned planning principles. What sort of person do you want to reach? What are they doing on that particular piece of content? What mood are they likely to be in while reading that page or watching that video? Is the time of day important to their mood or their reaction to the ad?”

Moorhead agreed that digital contextual advertising is an area where the experience and expertise of traditional media planners is extremely relevant. She said: “My background is in TV advertising, but in recent years I’ve been working very closely with our digital team on omnichannel campaigns, bringing it all together. Context has always been a big part of traditional media campaigns, so I’m really excited about how we can take some of the learnings we’ve gathered over years and years and apply them to the world of digital and addressability.”

The trouble with attention

On the subject of ‘attention’ metrics, Smartframe Technologies’ Andy Ashly commented: “I read some research recently that suggested only four in every 100 ads actually gets any kind of attention. Clearly, attention isn’t something that’s easily attainable and any technology or ad platform that helps to deliver attention is going to be valuable. One problem is that there’s no industry standard definition of attention at the moment, but we’re currently working on some really interesting mechanics of attention, to be unveiled soon! We’re also working very closely with the IBA on the harmonisation of this sort of metric across the industry.”

Martin, who started in the industry as a programmatic planner buyer, manually creating keyword lists for contextual targeting, confirmed that the topic of attention has been coming up more and more with clients. She said: “We’ve done some of our own research, trying to understand the relationship between attention and context and how we can plan campaigns that are optimised to attention from the outset. One method is to use a media mix where we think audiences are less likely to be distracted and more likely to be focused on the channel that they’re consuming. I think we’ll continue to see huge developments in contextual advertising thanks to AI, but it’s critical that we retain traditional planning principles.”

Clapson of team x (the Mercedes business unit within Omnicom) raised the crucial role of publisher buy-in to any evolving metrics: “We can talk about high attention properties as much as we want, but if they’re not there to be bought, we’re a little bit stuck. If the Daily Mail’s current ad sales model works for them, they’re not going to shift until presented with something that drives better revenue for them. Again, from an advertisers perspective, it depends on the business outcome you are trying to achieve. If someone wants to buy a C-Class Mercedes, we can optimise ad spend directly against that data point. Attention metrics aren’t going to help with that.” 

Back to our roots

Burchnall agreed that fixating on ‘high attention’ media would be a mistake for many brand advertisers. 

“It’s not all about high attention placements. In fact, if you’re only optimising towards those, you’re not recognising how consumers consume and absorb media. For example, ‘out of home’ advertising delivers fleeting attention but we know that it works. If everyone piles towards high attention formats, you lose all your scale and media inflation runs wild.

“For me, it’s also about recognising the number of ‘attentive seconds’ a brand needs in order to be successful. If you’re McDonalds, you might only need a second or two to make an impression; if you are launching a new car brand, you’ll probably need longer to explain what’s on offer.”

However, Sichel argued that attention metrics may be an unnecessary distraction for some clients: “We have a client that only measures ‘brand uplift’ from their campaigns.They don’t care about any of the engagement metrics, which is a positive from a media planner’s perspective. As planners, we’re not responsible for the creative. If the creative isn’t good enough and viewers don’t watch it to the end, I don’t want my work to be measured against that. 

“We recommend that clients use uplift studies, survey target audiences and use A/B testing pre-campaign. If timing allows, run those assets before you actually launch a multi-million pound campaign and optimise it before it’s even begun.”

What to do with the consumer’s attention once you have can also be a source of debate between client and agency, explained Ayres: “The ‘product vs brand’ debate in relation to attention is a really interesting conversation and the answer is different depending on the brand’s objectives. For example, I used to work on film campaigns, and often the distributors would want their logo to appear within the first three seconds of a video ad. This risked losing the viewer’s attention on the key attributes of the video (i.e. the content of the trailer rather than the film distributor, the latter of which is less important in converting the consumer in this category specifically).

“Contextual targeting, in many ways, is helping us as an industry get back to our roots, but the technology available to us today allows us to be a lot more flexible and creative with it.” 

And it was to the topic of ‘creativity in contextual advertising’ that conversation turned to in the second half of the discussion.