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How to build engagement and trust in the attention economy

by Paul Thompson

March 25, 2022

On average, we are exposed to between 6,000 and 10,000 advertisements every day. This is simply too much for our brains to handle, which means the vast majority of ads we see are simply ignored or forgotten about within seconds. This bombardment of content, combined with the growing hostility towards advertising - especially online - is now forcing brands to reconsider their advertising strategies in order to win the attention of viewers while also respecting and maintaining their trust.

According to research by the UK advertising think tank Credos, consumer favorability to advertising reached a low point of just 25% percent in 2019. This is being driven by concerns over personal online privacy coupled to the increasing intrusiveness and irrelevance of the advertising communication.

Consumer sentiment has worsened and antipathy towards advertising has grown despite the benefits it brings in the form of free content and services. On top of this, we are already embarking on the transition to a “cookieless” future which in itself will present a real challenge to advertisers. Unless that is, brands take the opportunity to chart a different course and embrace new strategies and technologies to innovate their marketing strategies. This is where contextual advertising comes in.

Context is vital

Contextual advertising relies on machine learning, image recognition and complex linguistic models to deliver advertising content on relevant and brand safe sites without the use of cookies. It also adds in a layer of brand suitability and is less prone to making errors than a human equivalent and can match contextual segmentation at scale.

For advertisers, this is an effective way to reach consumers without taking advantage of their data or using data of dubious provenance given the challenges over the collection of implicit consent. Research into the effectiveness of contextual ads in attracting and maintaining a viewer’s attention was limited, which is why Lumen and Seedtag conducted research comparing it with other digital advertising formats.

1,200 UK respondents took part in the study, with their navigation behavior being measured by eye-tracking technology as they viewed a number of formats including contextual ads, videos, rich media and IAB’s standard formats. The results of the study showed why contextual advertising can be such an effective way for brands to reach their target audience safely.

Contextual ads were the most effective in retaining attention of all formats tested. For example, contextual ads were viewed 87% more than traditional IAB formats. They were also viewed for an average time of 3.2 seconds, the most of any format. The attention span for a contextual ad across social media was 37% than that of video formats or display ads, while contextual ads drove 3.2x more engagement.

Driving memorability and sales

What does all this mean? Contextual ads not only drive engagement and help build trust, they also positively affect a brand’s bottom line. According to Lumen’s research, the longer an ad holds the viewer’s attention, the more likely it is to convert to a sale. According to Lumen, ads that are viewed for over 2.5 seconds can drive sales up to 50%. As the contextual ads were the most effective in holding a consumer’s attention, they are also the most likely to drive increased sales.

The memorability of an ad is key in the attention economy, and context can play a huge role in making sure a campaign sticks in the mind of the consumer. Integral Ad Science conducted a study into the effectiveness of contextual ads in driving memorability, compared with other formats. It found that viewers are 23% more likely to remember the key message of an ad when its content is aligned with that of the site that is hosting it. The study also found that ads that were designed to trigger an emotional response were up to 40% more memorable when placed on a page whose content matched that of the ad. This can be so important when so many of our purchase decisions are dictated by emotion.

A win-win for brands and publishers

In the attention economy, publishers are also fighting to stand out and cut through the clutter. These pages are also affected by the growing hostility towards online advertising as people are wary of visiting sites that are perceived as hosting intrusive or irrelevant content. Publishers can innovate their marketing strategies by hosting contextual ads. When an ad is better integrated with the content of a page, it is much less likely to compromise the safety of the reader. This provides the reader with an improved experience and should allow the publisher to grow their audience and increase profits while also building trust.

As we hurtle towards a “cookieless” future, building trust and respecting privacy is key. If advertisers and publishers can leverage new contextual technologies and deliver safe, engaging content, they can turn this transition from a daunting prospect into an opportunity.


Contextual AI
contextual targeting
attention economy
cookie-less targeting