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May I Have Your Attention Please?



Thought Leadership

One of the hotter buzzwords in advertising today is attention. Which has led to – or perhaps is a result of – a growing industry of companies offering some version of “attention metrics.” So, let’s pay some attention to “attention”: what does it mean and why should it matter to the performance marketer?

For years, media measurement has revolved around the concept of “opportunity to see.” Advertisers would place an ad on a TV station, on a website, on a billboard, in a newspaper or magazine (remember those?) and the publishers would offer an estimated number of impressions that placement would potentially deliver. But those “impressions” were never really impressions. People left the room, looked away, changed the channel, or turned the page. What media sellers really offer is their audience had the opportunity to see the ad, not that they had.

Monetizing Attention

Digital media ushered in an era of greater accountability, since users could interact with ads and interactions could be measured with clicks, visits, and online purchases. But not every clicker is a buyer, and most buyers are not clickers. So, the marketplace—even in interactive media —continued to transact on impressions instead of actions. To monetize media even more, they devalued those impressions by placing too many ads on a page (clutter), ads that were in view for too short a period of time (duration), and even ads that weren’t visible to humans at all (viewability). The market responded by creating minimum standards of viewability. Problem solved, let’s go drink some rosé on the Croisette!

Well, except that viewability isn’t the same as attention, any more than an impression is. Which brings us to 2023, who some pundits have dubbed “the year of attention metrics.” So, what is attention and how do you measure it? Integral Ad Science (IAS) – one of several companies that has shifted focus from visibility to attention—defined attention as “a measure of whether or not an ad is resonating with consumers and can be linked to business results.” IAS identified three key elements to garnering attention: visibility, situation, and interaction. Let’s run down each:

  • Visibility —Visibility is just another term for viewability. Can the ad be physically seen? How much of the screen does it occupy? How long is it in view?
  • Situation —Situation has to do with the environment that ad appears in. Is it brand safe? Is it contextually relevant? Is it cluttered with other ads?
  • Interaction—Interaction indicates that humans are engaging with the content and ads. Are they scrolling? Pausing and playing video? Turning sound on or off? Are their eyes tracking to— or away from—ads on a page?

IAS’s requirements for attention make sense. If you can’t see an ad, how will it ever get your attention? If it appears in an uncluttered environment that is relevant to the content you’re there to see, it’s even more likely to get your attention. And if you are interacting with an ad, clearly it got your attention.

Attention: The Golden Metric?

Adelaide is another player in the attention metrics space. Adelaide uses a model that is continually being trained on many of the same metrics as IAS and gives each media placement a 0-100 “Attention Unit” score. I don’t think it is a coincidence that AU is the elemental symbol for gold – is attention the “golden” metric? What makes Adelaide different is that they have attempted to equalize attention metrics across every channel, format, and device regardless of the advertiser and their creative execution. Adelaide measures ad size, position, duration, viewability, clutter, and other metrics proven to drive attention. This helps bring attention metrics into the media cost equation. Two ad placements might have the same CPM, but if one placement’s AU score is twice that of the other, that placement’s “cost per attentive reach” is twice as efficient.

You are probably thinking, “just what I needed—another proxy metric to track and optimize to.” If you’re like me—a performance marketer—your response should also be “does attention directly correlate to improved outcomes?” The data shows that it does, and that’s why we should care about attention metrics. Attention has been strongly correlated to brand health measures like recall and favorability, as well as tangible performance metrics like site visitations and sales lift. A recent IAS survey of marketers using attention metrics to optimize performance showed that 86%
reported improvement in media performance and 79% reported improvement in revenue opportunity since implementing an attention strategy. Adelaide’s studies have shown high correlation between attention units and brand recall, perception, consideration and conversions.

Building an Attention Strategy

So, what does a smart attention strategy look like? Start by using some form of attention metrics as part of your digital media bidding strategy. Since attention metrics are based on a combination of elements that are measurable in advance of bidding on an ad placement, prioritize bids for placements with higher attention scores and either discount or avoid placements where attention is low. Then look at KPI performance to understand:

  • Does attention correlate with your desired outcome, be it brand, sales, or both? If so, you know that attention is a relevant metric for future optimization.
  • Is there an attention metric threshold below which ads don’t deliver measurable outcomes? If so, set that as a floor for your bidding strategy and avoid those placements at any cost.
  • Do certain creative executions perform better in certain placements than others with equivalent attention scores? If so, then there is likely some contextual relevance factor driving that performance. Adjust your bidding and trafficking strategy to leverage it.

Attention metrics can be a useful tool for marketers to quantify the quality of media placements before they are bid on. When used strategically, they can help to grow sales in the present, while improving brand health metrics that feed future success. And those metrics are something we all need to be paying attention to.

This article is featured in Media Impact Report No. 51. View the full report here.

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