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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Media execs can’t afford to sleep on attention 

June 20, 2023 | By Tatevik Mkrtchyan, Product Marketing Manager – Equativ @Equativ

As publishers and advertisers look for privacy-compliant metrics to help evaluate performance and engagement, everyone’s talking about attention – and for good reason. While it may seem easy to view the topic as just another passing fad, attention is likely here to stay.

A 2021 Microsoft study revealed the average attention span is just eight seconds. It has also been estimated that the average American is exposed to anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day. Ads that hold attention for at least 2.5 seconds have been proven responsible for a 50% increase in sales. 

If stats like that aren’t enough to convince you, note that attention metrics can also serve as part of a solution to many of the industry’s ongoing shifts. For example, attention measurement solutions are generally cookieless, which provides an option given inevitable cookie deprecation. Attention metrics can be used to serve more relevant ads, thereby reducing the environmental impact of campaigns. They can also be used to help prove the impact of marketing spend in times of economic uncertainty. 

With attention looking likely to become industry-standard, publishers need to truly understand attention metrics and how best to leverage them. Those who are able to prove the quality of their inventory stand to gain in the short and long term. 

A quick refresher on attention

Traditional metrics like Video Completion Rate (VCR) and Click Through Rate (CTR) no longer provide a comprehensive way to track engagement. Viewability, as defined by the Media Rating Council, only ensures an ad is in the viewable area of a user’s screen for a set duration – typically one second. Attention metrics offer a more detailed understanding of how users interact with ads and provide valuable insights into engagement. 

By analyzing attention metrics, advertisers can evaluate the effectiveness of different elements within an ad, such as specific visuals, headlines, or calls to action, as well as the probability of a specific placement to capture user attention. This data can inform iterative improvements in creative design, supply targeting, and placement strategies to optimize audience attention and engagement. 

Lab-based methodologies and panel-based eye-tracking technology are two of many approaches used to capture attention metrics. Ultimately, these attention metrics and measurement approaches give publishers and advertisers a more nuanced understanding of audience engagement, ad effectiveness, and brand impact. 

What you need to know now 

Attention measurement allows advertisers to target inventory that generates attention and campaign outcomes. Publishers can use it to guarantee advertisers increased visibility and brand recall, which isn’t possible with traditional clickthrough and impression metrics. 

Some say attention refers to an ad’s ability to: successfully engage a user, measure the quality and quantity of attention, and measure media and creative effectiveness. However, at present, there’s no uniformly agreed-upon definition of attention. 

As a result, no standard measurement methodology exists yet either. Many big industry providers like MOAT, IAS, and DoubleVerify (as well as new grassroots attention measurement providers) have developed multiple KPIs and technologies for measuring attention. While there are many applications and use cases, attention vendors often focus on measuring media quality and predicting which placements (a combination of domain, device, and format) are likely to generate more attention.

However, the IAB recently gathered a group of key stakeholders to focus on the measurement landscape, increasing the chances that attention will soon become the new standard industry metric. 

How publishers can benefit 

It’s true that the attention trend is driven by demand, and mostly delivers buyer-driven benefits. However, media companies can also use attention metrics to benchmark their inventory to understand what’s driving quality engagement to inform pricing to increase revenue and improve the audience experience.

Attention metrics can be used to track the site user’s journey. Time-in-view, scrolling behavior, and mouse-over-data can all be used to determine time spent interacting with page elements – including ads. This allows you to analyze placement on your pages through eye-tracking panels and follow-up questionnaires to determine which ad formats generate more attention and the correlation to brand awareness/purchase consideration.

The findings allow you to adjust your monetization strategies accordingly to charge more for placement generating attention. Being able to prove your media has a direct effect on ad impact and performance will allow you to attract high-quality advertisers. They will be willing to pay a premium for ad placements in environments where users are highly engaged.

Finally, attention metrics contribute to a better ad experience for your audience. Consumers want to avoid sites featuring intrusive or irrelevant content. Understanding the formats and placements consumers prefer to engage with creates a seamless user experience and ultimately builds trust. Performance metrics around contextual advertising have illustrated this, proving consumers will accept additional privacy-compliant intelligence when it is used to serve the most relevant content. 

While it will take time for attention metrics and measurement to become standard, there is potential for an ad attention measurement currency in the future. Publishers who pay attention and start experimenting now will be ready to lead the way when that time comes. 

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