Attention is an important metric for advertising clients

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Good day from London, England. My last INMA newsletter was written whilst on a holiday in Marrakesh, Morocco. The weather there was so lovely and warm, but now I am back home in the rain, as autumn moves into winter. 

However, I hope the content of today’s newsletter still provides something to warm your heart. It’s all about a subject I have covered prior in an INMA Webinar earlier this year: attention. It prompted a number of questions from INMA members, and I thought a deeper dive into this important area would be useful. 

I am talking about attention as a metric for us and our advertisers.

Some new industry research from Research and Analysis of Media (RAM) has come to light which backs up all we discussed firstly in the Webinar and which I believe will provide great armament in the “battle” between media sales teams and advertisers/agencies to win bigger ad budget spends.

Firstly, I will cover what attention actually is, then provide a recap on what we discussed in my Webinar (and in my further speaker/industry conversations), then overlay what the new research shows us. 

All this dovetails nicely into what can be (another) great way to build trust and deliver insights with our advertisers — all part of our consultative sell.

Attention as a metric 

“Attention” is a new IAB-recognised metric that measures how engaged and/or focused an individual consumer is on an ad. 

Attention metrics are an all-inclusive description for the way advertisers can measure their ad campaign’s success, based on audience engagement, including: 

  • Attention (video views, pageviews, bounce rates, time spent on Web sites). 
  • Engagement (link clicks, content shares, shares per post, e-mail response rates, comments). 
  • Retention (the measure of how long people stay on Web sites before either returning, leaving for good, or simply abandoning shopping carts). 

Attention metrics are part of an ad industry-wide push to measure whether someone is able to really absorb an advertisement’s message. It goes way beyond the traditional metrics (e.g. impressions, views etc.) as they provide unique insights into the quality of engagement and campaign ability to produce a desired or intended result. 

Several big changes in the digital ecosystem are driving advertisers (and media now) to rely on extra insights that can prove the impact of a digital campaign.

Changes include: 

  • The cookie deprecation: As third-party cookies continue the race towards obsolescence, advertisers and media houses are looking for alternative metrics that can act as “proxy performance indicators.” 
  • Creative copy advancement: Advancements in digital ads give advertising brands the opportunity to be more creative with ad copy (and design). Attention metrics give a real solution to the challenge of knowing which messages — and creative treatments — are having the biggest impact. 
  • Measurement: Brands, advertisers, and agencies are now focused on showing the link between awareness tactics with actual business outcomes. 

Attention metrics are designed to answer whether a “meaningful” interaction actually gives in a real business result. Research shows a direct association between attention and business outcomes throughout the sales funnel.

In media terms and in recent years, “attention” has begun to emerge as an important metric for measuring media sales. But, as INMA members learned during my recent Webinar, it’s a metric that must be approached carefully. 

Publishers, agencies, and advertisers are finding a way to agree on what “attention” means: how it can be measured and what that means to the industry.

In my Webinar (and further conversations later) with founder of the U.K. agency Six Sells, Mike Nicholson, who specialises in helping clients reach their target audiences, we discussed how measuring attention in ad campaigns can lead to better results. 

Mike talked to me about the current views related to using attention as a measurement. He started by saying that measuring attention isn’t a new idea; it’s just that how we measure it has changed. My Webinar particularly focused on how publishers can approach attention to improve advertising sales. 

“Attention’s always been the first thing that’s needed before you can communicate anything,” he said, tracking the rise of the modern attention metric back to 2013. That’s when Lumen Research, a London-based agency, introduced its eye-tracking technology, which uses front-facing cameras on computers and mobile devices to measure what consumers are looking at and how long it holds their attention. 

Since then, technology has continued evolving, and more companies are interested in measuring attention — even though there isn’t a clearly established definition of what “attention” means.

Phrases such as “time in view” and “viewability” are often used interchangeably with “attention,” but Mike argued that is not correct as they don’t necessarily reflect the amount of time a user engaged with the ad on the screen.

“The way I describe attention is when a real human looked at an ad that was viewable for a period of time on a site,” he said. “Everyone has their own point of view on this, but there’s very little being pushed out into the conversation from the publisher side. News brands tend to perform strongly as it relates to the active attention metric versus other open Web platforms, and I think that attention gives us that opportunity to show real value to our ad clients from the start of the campaign to the end.”

The “fewer is better” approach to advertisers is good for publishers because the ads receive more attention, Mike noted. But there’s another plus to consider: “If there’s a lot of heavy ad calls, lots of header bidding, and all sorts of requests going on in the background, that produces carbon emissions. And so the fewer the better the strategy that a lot are adopting in online media will be good for the environment as well.” 

Publishers have many advantages when it comes to delivering on the attention metric. 

To thrive in the attention economy, Mike said publishers must also make sure the creative content is high quality, something they had little control over in the past. “But if the creative is bad and somebody doesn’t look at it, it’s us as publishers that will be judged as being poor performing.” 

How true! Sadly. 

That’s a definite weakness for publishers, but Mike said they can start speaking up about attention from a publisher’s standpoint and have a voice in shaping the narrative around attention. Doing so will lead to new opportunities for news media companies. 

“I think that because news brands do tend to perform well as it relates to attention, there’s the opportunity to win advertising budgets from sites that are perhaps made for advertisers, low-quality sites, bait sites, or sites where they could get away with it when it was just a case of proving that the ad was viewable,” he said. 

Armed with new measurements that show the value of attention and engagement, publishers have the chance to reclaim some of the money that might have gone to other channels: 

“I think that there’s a real way that news sites can work, both together and individually, to prove that advertising on new sites leads from attention to an outcome. If news publishers start working together to control the narrative around attention as it relates to news brands, it will perhaps shape it into something that’s optimal for publishers as well as our tech companies.” 

Then, as the news industry becomes part of the conversation and produces research showing there are real outcomes connected to advertising on their sites, they will start seeing a higher amount of advertising pounds and dollars being invested in digital. 

Publishers must be aware of some of the threats they’re facing to be able to manage them. 

Mike concluded: “I think attention can help us if we’re able to build best practices based on our learnings. It could be around the context, the timing, the duration, the asset sizing within the ad, the sounds, the colours, the story, the emotion. 

“We should start to see better advertising, which will lead to better attention scores, which will lead to higher revenues.”

All fascinating stuff. And any INMA members here who wants to dive more into this, can check out the recording and slide deck from my Webinar with Mike Nicholson, as well as INMA’s Paula Felps’ full summary of the event and Mike’s SWOT analysis in attention — a must-read for anyone in this space. 

High attention and the impact on advertising effectiveness

But, now let’s go a step further, as some recent research has come to my attention (to quote a key word for today: “attention”) 

Research organisation RAM (Research and Analysis of Media) is an international research company that facilitates media to interact with its readers, listeners, and viewers and offers these users the ability to express their opinion and attitudes about their chosen media. 

RAM offers media statistics on how articles, advertisements, and other media communication are consumed and perceived. They work almost exclusively with online surveys and the subsequent analysis of the content in conjunction with content from TV, radio, newsprint, media agencies, and advertisers — and with the interpretation and insights all that generates. 

They have the largest reference database in the world, providing a full understanding of the constantly shifting media landscape. 

Recently, RAM have aggregated the results of over 5,000 advertisements from over 800,000 responses (UK and Ireland) across print, digital, and radio, and using a tool called DataTile. And it seems to backup exactly what we heard from Mike Nicholson, regarding both online advertising and print. 

Attention in advertising is an important and evolving area, especially in the world of ad effectiveness. Creating campaigns with high attention is a crucial step in creating ads that really work. 

RAM’s survey data and their new attention metric clearly illustrate the major impact attention has on response. The metric provides additional insights into how individual campaigns score and illustrates the importance of attention in driving engagement and action for advertisers, with purchase intent scoring particularly high.

They were able to identify the correlation between high attention and other effectiveness metrics using DataTile’s Research Intelligence Solution. 

Their methodology consisted of a series of online advertising effectiveness surveys (sent to RAM panelists across multiple media channels). Respondents were asked a series of effectiveness questions based around five things:

  1. Recall: Do people remember seeing the ad? Those who remember seeing the ad and score highly on thoroughness/attention given to the ad.
  2. High attention recall: Those who remember seeing the ad and score highly on thoroughness/attention given to the ad.
  3. Recognition: Familiarity with the brand.
  4. Engagement: Metrics such as creativity, benefit, new information.
  5. Action: Did the ad drive action?

What they found: 

  • 39% of all who recall print ads are high-attention readers.
  • 37% of all who recall digital ads are high-attention readers.

This led them to conclude that “the amount of attention a person gives to an ad has a positive impact on effectiveness metrics” (see charts below).


Specifically, research into the food and drink and the banking and finance sectors showed some interesting conclusions, which I believe have a relevance and impact on media sales, too.

In food and drink, whilst high-attention readers are more engaged with the ads, it is in the action metrics where the biggest increase can be seen: high-attention readers are an impressive 60% more likely to take action than the average reader:

And in banking and finance, once again, whilst high-attention readers are more engaged with the ads, it is in the action metrics again where the biggest increase can be seen. High-attention readers here are 49% more likely to take action than the average reader:

Next may well see RAM looking at the news media industry specifically, but there is no reason to suspect the results will be any different as they all relate to client advertising performance, which can nominally be constant, irrespective of the (premium) environment.


Overall, the RAM analysis showed attention has a direct impact on the effect of ads (on memory, attitudes, and behavioural responses). We the media need to “smell the coffee.” 

New attention metrics will undoubtedly become an indispensable part of successful advertising strategies for many advertising companies and the media teams who sell to them, thus enabling insightful planning for future campaigns. 

Where do we as publishers start with all this?

As Mike Nicholson at Six Sells said: “There are lots of different things that you can test and change and see how it affects how people actually use your site. And then with all of those metrics, you can then start to think, OK, well we now know how people like to read our site.” 

That will provide an understanding of the optimum size and placement for an ad and allow for designing uncluttered pages that encourage attention. 

As attention becomes better understood as a metric, Mike predicts ad quality will improve and new best practices for ads will emerge. Time will tell, but we can sure “attention” is not going away. 

Sales teams should be up to speed. It seems to me that education, as ever, is needed — on both sides of the ad buy/sell. It’s another opportunity for media sales teams to “grasp the nettle” and develop skills sets around attention to be able to communicate learnings to ad clients. 

All part of building what we have spoken about at length in these newsletters regarding providing USPs and unique insights that create an environment for ourselves of trust and knowledge about the industry we love and work in.

Further reading

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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