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What is a better measure of campaign success: viewability or attention?

by Sandeep Benny

February 20, 2023

When we think back to the time when viewability was controversial, it really puts our industry into perspective. Several brands turned to viewability to prevent ad fraud and poorly designed user experiences. After all these years, we're still basing decisions on viewability, which is now significantly underselling many digital media placements. We've outgrown the need for visibility, but haven't given it up.

Our research shows that there are factors besides viewability that are much better predictors of performance. These include the share of voice, animation, contextual alignment and prominent branding.

If this is the case, surely we can update our industry standard to incorporate attention measurement metrics, which are significantly better at capturing these elements that truly move the needle for brands.

Is attention the be-all and end-all metric? No.

Does attention outperform viewability in terms of performance? Yes.

If we can still get everything we need and more, we should consider making a shift.

The last straw with viewability

Every day, people see about 10,000 ads. Not every ad will stick out as particularly memorable or relevant, whether it's a Super Bowl commercial or a Google search result. It is the advertiser's job to cut through the clutter.

One way to accomplish this is to raise the minimum standard for many ads delivered today. When viewability became the norm, brands bought for scale and low prices. They weren't doing a great job of evaluating media partners and weren't implementing frequency caps effectively. In essence, any ad that was "in view" was counted towards the widely held goal of "deliver in full."

Brands have become considerably more sophisticated. They are now calculating the potential reach of their audience. They use more frequency caps and are willing to pay more for better placements. They can afford to raise the bar on what's regarded as a successful ad. One way to do this is to switch from minimum viewability standards to minimum attention standards.

We recently bet that guaranteed viewability alone could not deliver higher performance, and the data proved us right. We considered several methods for increasing attention. For example, we found that high-impact ads had scored 2x higher in brand recognition, unaided recall, and aided recall. We also looked at the impact of putting ads next to different types of content. We discovered that CPG businesses with contextual targeting experienced a 2x greater conversion rate when their ad was placed next to food and recipe material as opposed to pop culture content.

At the same time, we worked with partners to create a test campaign that would guarantee a certain level of attention, and the results were much better. Anyone could use our approach:

Select a third-party attention vendor to measure media attention. Agree on a minimum attention rating, CPM, and impressions for the campaign or placement. Allow publishers to control an average rating as they deliver a variety of placements. (This means publishers can use attention metrics without completely redesigning their portfolios to fit the metric). Determine the campaign's success based on the average attention score. Any shortfalls can be amended by adding attention from make-good impressions to the average calculation.

This process might look familiar because it's almost the same as the viewability process in place today.

Turning our attention to attention

Of course, there will be some hiccups as the industry prioritizes attention above viewability. It took a lot of effort for publishers to update their sites to guarantee minimum viewability standards, ultimately benefiting user experience and ad performance. Many publishers were concerned that adopting higher standards would reduce their revenue, however, the move to higher standards produced better outcomes, allowing publishers to charge more and acquire greater loyalty from media buyers.

The same is most likely true for attention. Publishers with the best attention performance and the fastest adoption of attention-based buying will be able to command higher prices and experience stronger loyalty as brands realize that it directly corresponds to improved performance.

Regarding viewability, there will almost certainly be some back-and-forth about the appropriate "standard." Using an average makes it easier for publishers to figure out how to include attention into their product design for the time being, but we may eventually make it a requirement for every ad placement. Similarly, companies like Adelaide are emerging to provide measurement and reporting similar to DoubleVerify and IAS. This may be the best long-term solution, or there may be an open-source alternative that works.

Furthermore, focusing on more meaningful metrics like attention helps marketers focus on quality and become more efficient, which can become a lever in their search for sustainability. Every additional impression generated result in a carbon footprint. If brands run fewer, more effective impressions, they can reduce the total number of impressions and the emissions that arise.

The point is that all of the puzzle pieces are on the table. The tools are there; the outcomes are better. It's merely a matter of making it happen.

Learn more about implementing attention-based ad campaigns.


attention ads
attention economy
Digital Marketing
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attention metrics
Attention Marketing