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What marketers need to know about attention metrics


By Charlotte McEleny, Asia Editor

November 16, 2021 | 7 min read

As part of The Drum’s Data Deep Dive, we dig into whether attention metrics live up to the promise of helping marketers understand whether ads are seen as well as served.

The metrics and currency on which ads and media is valued have never been more scrutinized than in the digital era. For traditional media, such as TV, there is unwavering consensus on this.

Michelle Hobbs, APAC lead for PlatformGSK at Publicis Media, says: “If used correctly, attention metrics have the potential to move the advertising industry forward into an interesting and more transparent space. In simple terms, from a media point of view, we will understand more about which platforms, devices and formats deliver the best attention in digital. In TV, for example, we can understand which programs, genres and positionings in breaks deliver a higher attention environment and answer questions such as whether sponsorships are worth their premium in terms of delivering additional attention v spot advertising.”

Cookies and measurement

Attention is, therefore, nothing new. However, changes in the digital ecosystem and improvements in technology have pushed this agenda to the fore. The death of the cookie and limits on tracking on mobile mean marketers are having to rethink old ways of measuring whether the right audience saw their ads.

Jordan Khoo, managing director, APAC, DoubleVerify, explains: “Privacy concerns and industry regulations such as GDPR and CCPA are impacting the way advertisers target audiences and measure campaign performance.

“The deprecation of cookies has reduced the efficacy of existing targeting and measurement solutions. Multi-touch attribution tools, for example, can no longer measure all advertising touchpoints if they have limited visibility into the customer journey, and dynamic creative optimization tools cannot conduct proper A/B testing if they are not able to track and segment audiences. In addition, existing privacy-safe solutions have their own set of challenges. For example, media mix models are updated infrequently and are limited in granularity; panel studies are based on a small set of users and therefore are not comprehensive, and brand lift studies are not actionable in real-time. With these limitations at play, privacy-friendly solutions are now gaining importance.”

The currency crisis

For Professor Karen Nelson-Field, founder and chief executive officer of Amplified Intelligence, this isn’t merely context – it’s a currency crisis.

“Attention has become important because marketers are recognizing that the difference between an ad being seen versus an ad being served can quite literally be the difference between brand growth and decline. It has become important because most people in the industry understand the mess the media trading ecosystem is in, and are looking for ways to not only maximize their ad spend but to have some sort of baseline clarity around cross-platform performance.

“That our current measures are not commensurate with performance nor are they universal across all publishers means we have a currency crisis. And the monetary value of wasted ad dollars in an economy that is failing is immense.”

But as with most challenges and crises facing the digital marketing ecosystem, solutions are never far behind. Technology businesses have been quick to develop tools and many brands and agencies are starting to run major pilot programs to assess whether they have the impact they promise.

There’s a lack of clarity around what an attention tool should really mean, however, with many different approaches being bracketed under the catch-all term. For Rob Hall, chief executive officer of Playground XYZ, true attention tools need to use eye-tracking.

“Attention can mean anything from listening to or considering something, to simply having an awareness of it. When we talk about attention from a digital advertising perspective, we are largely referring to visual attention. At Playground XYZ we use the metric Attention Time: the length of time, in seconds, the ad was actually looked at. ‘Looked’ is the key word there, and that’s where we draw the line in our definition of attention metrics – it has to be about looking, and has to be based on real eye-tracking data,” he says.

Time to test and learn

The newness and hype around attention can draw brands into investing in the wrong tools or partners, and without many public examples of best practices, brands are testing with some trepidation.

Cars24 is one of these brands and Erin Williamson, chief customer officer, advises brands to take on a test-and-learn mentality.

“For me, it’s about how your immediate media partner has learned about attention measurement from the source – can they demonstrate how they would implement it for your brand, are they able to articulate the results and advise on how to take action accordingly? I’d also advise caution for anyone that promises the universe – the technology is new, we’re all learning about it, so insist on a test-and-learn approach with visible results before you commit. For me, the ultimate result is commercial – not simply securing higher attention properties but translating this into greater saliency and sales. We’re thrilled that our media agency, Hatched Media, has been such an early adopter in this space. Being a smaller and more nimble agency partnering with our startup mentality at Cars24 allows for quick action in implementation,” she says.

With attention being at a critical but early stage, the opportunity is in the hands of the industry to set a new gold standard for digital metrics.

Good and bad data

Amplified Intelligence’s Nelson-Field says marketers should understand the difference between good and bad attention data.

“Best-practice attention metrics are collected passively from a human viewer. They monitor genuine, not simulated, platforms so that the respondent is viewing naturally. The gaze models should achieve accuracy to an eyes-on-ad level without the need for interruptive calibration. And these models should prove consistent across boundary conditions. And of course, the process should apply GDPR standards for data privacy and storage. If we adhere to the rules that are human, privacy-safe, natural, accurate and consistent, I believe the attention economy will endure. This is because uplift in advertising impact will be significant and when marketers see such dramatic differences, a critical mass will adopt.”

One thing was clear when speaking to the industry about attention metrics – 2022 would be the year that this critical mass adoption would happen. As Publicis’s Hobbs says: “I am expecting that 2022 will be a defining year for attention and there will be a tipping point, taking attention [from] being a research topic to a credible media currency.”

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