Attention is a key metric for advertising clients

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


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.”

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About Mark Challinor

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