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What is attention?

Everyone knows the definition of attention, but what does the term mean in the context of digital advertising? According to the IAB, attention can be defined as “a consumer looking at or listening to an ad at the time they were exposed to it”. In terms of advertising, attention is an essential factor,  because it determines whether or not a consumer notices and engages with an ad. 

 

Why is it important to understand attention?

Tracing the origins of attention in advertising

Attention may currently be an industry hot topic, but it has always been an important concept within advertising. To this day renowned advertising executive, William Bernbach’s famous remark, “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic” remains an industry trope that holds true.

It was Herbert Simon who first coined the term “attention economy” in the 1960s, nearly 30 years before the birth of the internet. Simon predicted that as the amount of available information exponentially increased, attention would inevitably become a scarce commodity due to the linear relationship between population growth and the time available per day. It is safe to say that Herbert Simon’s predictions have not only stood the test of time, but have been reinforced in today’s digital age. 

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Why is it worth measuring attention?

Attention may be an industry buzzword, but is it worth measuring? The IAB (an industry body promoting standards and best practices globally) outlined why understanding and measuring for attention is critical for advertisers. 

Asset 2As we’ve mentioned, attention isn’t a new concept – it’s been well-known to advertisers for decades. However, in recent years the technology utilised to measure attention has progressed significantly.

Asset 2 In today’s fast-paced digital world capturing consumer attention is increasingly challenging, and the competition for attention is fierce. It is estimated that consumers are exposed to 5,000+ ads per day and completely ignore 75% of them. How do you make sure your ad captures their attention?

Asset 2Measuring attention can provide valuable insight into the user’s conscious choices regarding which content they engage with and whether they have viewed your ad. This type of attention is commonly referred to as selective attention and plays a significant role in creating top-of-mind awareness for your brand.

Asset 2Attention provides a greater level of insight than traditional metrics offer, going far beyond whether an ad is viewable or not. According to the IAB’s research, attention has even been found to be 6x more effective than viewability in predicting recall, and 7x more effective in predicting awareness

Asset 2Attention puts the emphasis back on the quality of the user’s ad experience, and holds just as much weight as traditional quantitative measures, such as reach.

Asset 2Although we are discussing attention in the context of digital advertising, it is a versatile metric that can also be used for a variety of different formats. For example, attention has the potential to play a key role in understanding a user's engagement with emergent digital formats such as AR/VR, gaming, and CTV.

For more from the IAB UK read: Understanding Attention in Digital Advertising.
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Traditional versus attention metrics

Traditional metrics like impressions, clicks, CTR, and viewability may be easy to understand, but they only offer a small snapshot of campaign performance. These metrics are also limited in scope because they rely solely on server-side measurements that can’t fully capture the subjective perception of the consumer viewing the screen. Viewability identifies whether a user has the ability to view an ad, but just because an ad is technically viewable it doesn’t mean that it will catch a user’s attention. Attention, in contrast to these metrics, tells us whether or not the ad has been noticed.

Overall, attention measurement offers a comprehensive view of audience engagement and interaction with an ad campaign. Studies have also shown that attention is a better predictor of campaign results than viewability, making it a crucial metric for marketers. In contrast, viewability is at risk of becoming a "gamed metric," which can lead to the use of small ads designed solely to play for viewability metrics.

For more on the move away from viewability towards attention read: Viewability vs Attention… the battle of the measurement methods.

 

What are attention metrics?

Attention is the first metric that captures the human consumption of ads; but currently there is no universally agreed standard for defining the group of measurements that comprise attention. This group currently incorporates various emergent technologies, interaction signals, while also building on existing metrics.

As the industry shift towards buying  attention rather than viewable impressions, there is also a need for a new measurement value that can be applied to both high impact and and standard display formats. As a result, aCPM (attentive CPM), APM (attention per mile), and eAPM (effective attention per mille) have emerged as measurements for the value of attention generated. These metrics will be used as advertisers begin to plan, buy and optimise based on attention.

 

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For more on how Adnami has developed a methodology for measuring attention, download our white paper.

 

What factors drive attention?

A metric is only truly valuable if we understand the factors that influence it. As a result, attention is only meaningful if we also understand its levers. At Adnami, we’ve broken these down into several key drivers. 

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  • PIXELS - Screen real estate is key for driving attention. The more screen space a format occupies, the more attention it demands. This makes larger and more responsive high impact formats ideal for capturing attention versus smaller display formats.

  • CREATIVE - Videos or ads with movement tend to be more effective than static images in driving attention. Aggregated index data from our platform found that video content secures x2.7 more in-view time than still creative. Other elements such as clear and instant branding, CTA and design quality are elements that play an important role in capturing attention.

  • TIME - The longer an ad is in view the higher the likelihood the message is registered and understood. Great creatives with appealing messages typically generate a higher time in view.

  • PLACEMENT - The location of an ad format within an online environment is a crucial factor in driving attention. Ideally, ads should be placed within the content zone, preferably at the center and as high up the page as possible.

  • INTERACTION - Ads that users are actively and deliberately interacting with typically generate higher recall and awareness.

 Pixels

Screen real estate is key for driving attention. The more screen space a format occupies, the more attention it demands. This makes larger and more responsive high impact formats ideal for capturing attention versus smaller display formats.

Creative

Videos or ads with movement tend to be more effective than static images in driving attention. Aggregated index data from our platform found that video content secures x2.7 more in-view time than still creative. Other elements such as clear and instant branding, CTA and design quality are elements that play an important role in capturing attention.

Time

Videos or ads with movement tend to be more effective than static images in driving attention. Aggregated index data from our platform found that video content secures x2.7 more in-view time than still creative. Other elements such as clear and instant branding, CTA and design quality are elements that play an important role in capturing attention.

Placement

The location of an ad format within an online environment is a crucial factor in driving attention. Ideally, ads should be placed within the content zone, preferably at the center and as high up the page as possible.

Interaction

Ads that users are actively and deliberately interacting with typically generate higher recall and awareness.

Anticipating the Next Phase of Attention: What does the future hold?

eye icon Establishing an industry standard

The development of standards for defining and measuring attention is an ongoing process, with various industry experts offering different perspectives on the most effective approach.

Dr. Karen Nelson-Field, for instance, is developing “attention science” to be used as an objective and validated consensus for measuring attention. 

The Attention Validation Project initiated by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) has also assembled an advisory panel consisting of buyers, measurement providers and independent experts to identify the factors that make up “attention” and examine whether attention can be proven to impact advertising outcomes.

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Through collaborative efforts like these, the industry is working towards establishing a standardised metric for attention that can provide advertisers with valuable and actionable measurements.

Ultimately, attention is a human-centric response, not a digital event that can be logged or tracked in a database. Therefore, it is likely that a standardised attention metric will develop as a methodology that considers multiple key factors of attention. This will then be measured and analysed in ways that enable advertisers to obtain meaningful insights and take effective action based on measurements.   

For more on how the industry is moving forward with attention read: How attention metrics are putting advertisers back on the right path.

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Planning for attention

Though the industry is still working towards alignment for attention there are already steps that agencies and advertisers can take towards integrating attention into their media planning and campaigns. 


  1. PLAN ON CREATIVE FORMATS - Focus on creating high-impact ad formats that offer a large canvas to tell stories with color, video, emotion, and rich media.
  2. PLAN AND OPTIMISE ON THE FLY - Measure attention at publisher level and optimise live campaigns based on which formats are generating the most attention.
  3. REACH AND FREQUENCY - Plan for reach first, frequency second, and attention third, or combine attention metrics with social media and standard display advertising for a more efficient campaign.
  4. TARGET ATTENTION - Choose how many attentive seconds to buy using aCPM, and adjust bidding accordingly based on different formats and placements to achieve desired results.
  5. BETTER RETURN ON BUDGET - Analyse and model attentive impressions to gain a clearer picture of ad effectiveness across the customer journey and improve the ROI of media mix.

For more tips and tricks read: Media planning with attention - deploying the metric of the moment.

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Optimising based on attention

Monitoring metrics - and subsequently optimising a campaign based on performance - is a core driver of success. As soon as a new metric is introduced that promises a better understanding of what “good” is, the industry rapidly begins to optimise campaigns based on that metric. Both agencies and technology companies, like Adnami, are already implementing optimisation algorithms and providing real-time data attributes to enable media buyers to optimise their distribution and bidding strategies, focusing on areas where they are predicted to gain the most attention and value for their money.


Final thoughts

The importance of attention as a metric has become widely recognised across the industry. While technologies and methodologies are still evolving and our understanding of attention in digital media is in its infancy, those who actively embrace attention in their creative processes, distribution strategies, optimization and measurement stand to gain valuable insights that will provide them with a competitive advantage over late adapters. 

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