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Visual engagement – building memory structures and breaking through the clutter

As the teutonic jamboree of Dmexco rolls into Cologne for another eye-watering couple of days of insight, pitches, seminars and glowing neon stands, we at InSkin Media have been working hard to produce something for our seminar Through the Eye and into the Brain that will cut through the clutter. Without a hint of irony, our topic is based around cutting through the clutter.

From InSkin’s presentation at last year’s Dmexco – when viewability was at the forefront of industry chatter, and we unveiled our research Viewability – Moving Towards Meaningful Measurement – we know that half of senior digital execs consider IAB/MRC viewability standards inadequate, which goes up to two thirds for non-standard ad formats.

Nonetheless, the chase for (and optimisation against) viewability is on. Meeting viewability thresholds has become a key goal for publishers, tech companies, agencies and advertisers alike. According to leading viewability vendor Moat, these joint optimisation efforts resulted in increasing global in-view rates between Q2 2015 and Q1 2016, from 52 per cent, to 57 per cent.

But, as the price of display has been driven down, and viewability optimisation attempts may lead to the adoption of smaller ad formats (which are more likely to meet viewability thresholds), while the number of ads on the page has increased, how do you know if you really are standing out as an advertiser?

Everything that we strive towards at InSkin is about driving brand engagement, and we keep brand advertising’s key objective at the core of every campaign – to build and refresh memory structures which support and enhance the brand’s availability in the consumer’s mind.

Our current research project, previewed in our Through the Eyes and into the Brain seminar, aims to bridge the current gap in understanding, between ads being viewable, and ads being effective, ie, meeting that key brand building objective. We want to understand how viewability relates to the next step of the exposure journey – visual engagement – and how visual engagement relates to brand metrics.

Our first step is to discover more about how different types of ads have different levels of visual engagement. Sure all the ads on the page loaded – some of them were viewable, and some were even seen – but what do we know about effect this had on the user? Not a terrific amount relative to the amount we invest in this sector, we would argue.

So we partnered with Research Now, Sticky (visual engagement specialists) and Moat, to investigate viewability rates across formats, and compare gaze rates and engagement scores. We tested in single-format and three-format per page environments, to give us a clearer indication of the relative cut through of each different type of ad, across three different sectors (FMCG, auto, sportswear). We explored questions useful for advertisers looking to justify and shape their investment in the digital brand sector.

The good news is that according to our data, current viewability standards, despite their shortcomings, are good “attention baseline indicators”. By that I mean that if your ad wasn’t viewable, there’s an exceedingly high chance that no one ever locked eyes on it, and therefore it had little chance to influence anyone of anything.

Going back to brand advertising’s original objective, to leave a lasting impression in the consumer’s mind, here we are trying to apply some science to provide insight to the market to inform their digital display strategy, and also more subjective topics, going beyond format consideration and into creative execution.

And so, how is an advertiser to cut through the clutter? We’ve all been to a website and looked at the page and thought “there are too many ads here”, and logically, the more things there are to look at, the less attention each, individually, is likely to get. Our results show that, unsurprisingly, each ad unit tested performed worse for top-of-mind ad recall (apart from consistent performance for the skin) in the cluttered environment, than when it appeared as the only ad format on the page.

These initial results are insightful and helping us to shape our thinking on the best possible recommendations to our publisher partners. At the moment, yield management is a really tricky and contentious issue as publishers strive for more revenue, and editors fight for the right balance of real estate.

With this study, due to be unveiled in full in the coming weeks, we hope to be able to provide insight so the best types of ads don’t just drive best yields, but also back up the notion that “less is more” and that there is a really positive story about less clutter and better quality advertising.

Steve Doyle is chief commercial officer at InSkin Media

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