No Longer a Novelty, Attention Metrics are Now Fully Ingrained in Agencies’ Planning and Measurement

Tim Cross 21 July, 2022 

Media measurement has arguably never faced more upheaval than it is facing right now.

The loss of third-party cookies threatens to neuter a host of digital ad measurement tools. The proliferation of media platforms and channels is making the drive for cross-media measurement ever more urgent. And even TV measurement, which has operated for decades largely using the same basic principles, is undergoing a rework as it adapts to the streaming age.

All this disruption has provided a prime opportunity for a more fundamental rethink about the ways we measure media. And the main focus of the measurement revolutionaries has been attention.

Measuring attention is arguably not new. Plain old reach can be framed as a proxy for attention. After all, marketers aren’t really interested in how many impressions were delivered, but how many impressions actually left an impression. The implicit assumption is that if you reach a large audience, a good portion of that audience will pay attention to the ad.

Viewability seeks to refine this further – taking total reach, and discounting any impressions where you can confidently say the ad was essentially ignored. 

But many argue that these approaches fall short. They essentially assume that all reach is equal – that one of twenty ads crammed into a clickbait slideshow is as likely to grab someone’s attention as an ad on a quality news site. Even more sophisticated approaches, which assign different quality ratings to different media types and sellers, aren’t necessarily based on hard research into what is and isn’t likely to capture a viewer’s attention.

Are you watching closely?

A bevy of companies has emerged which seek to solve this problem. Using a range of techniques, from recall surveys to eyeball tracking, these companies aim to put hard figures to attention, rating which types of media are actually effective at grabbing a consumer’s attention (as well as optimising ad creative towards attention).

If these businesses were met with curiosity in their early days, they now certainly have the industry’s attention. Buyers, amidst their reassessment of measurement strategies, are grabbing these data points with both hands, making them a key part of the buying and measurement process.

“Four years ago, we saw an opportunity to re-evaluate legacy metrics as they often fell short in client discussions in reflecting the consumer behaviour that was happening across different media experiences,” said Joanne Leong, SVP of global partnerships at agency group Dentsu. “Our planning tools were accounting for the trade-offs between cost and reach, but we wanted them to focus on the quality of exposures as well. We also saw that really interesting companies were leveraging cutting edge technology such as eye-tracking to build scalable solutions to help address these gaps.”

Leong said that for Dentsu, attention measurement is a “huge priority”, and that the agency is looking to adopt them across the whole business. “Of course, different clients have different approaches and are on different points in the attention journey, but I think most agree that it is not if they should, but on the how,” said Leong.

It’s a similar story for IPG’s Mediahub. The media agency started looking into attention metrics in February last year, again driven by frustration with legacy metrics.

“We particularly had a bee in our bonnet about viewability,” said Erfan Djazmi, SVP, director of P3 at Mediahub. “Viewability essentially tells you how well a browser loads an ad, it’s about technology, not humans. We felt that there was a large proportion of digital ads which were firing viewability pixels, but people weren’t looking at those ads.”

The fact that attention-based targeting doesn’t require third-party cookies or use of personal data was an attraction for Mediahub too, in preparation for the post-cookie world. So too was the sustainability angle – unseen ads not only waste media budgets, but also contribute wholly avoidable carbon emissions.

Now just over a year later, Djazmi says attention metrics play a major role across Mediahub’s media buying. “It’s part of all of our digital buys,” said Djazmi. “Any programmatic, any Facebook, YouTube, all of that we’re optimising for attention.”

Prioritising attention is quickly becoming the norm. Just last month, Havas announced a partnership with Lumen to create tools to plan, measure, buy and optimise attention, while GroupM said it will be looking for attention capabilities from its new TV measurement partners.

The centre of attention

There are attention measurement specialists in the market which offer analytics on live campaigns, providing post-campaign analysis of how much attention that specific campaign received.

But for those VideoWeek spoke with, attention data is primarily used to judge which media channels generally rate highly – both for post-campaign analysis and pre-campaign planning.

“We have done research with the key players in the space including Lumen, TVision Insights, and Amplified Intelligence,” said Dentsu’s Leong. “Working with these companies, we have partnered on developing our eye-tracking research or utilising their eye-tracking data to build a database of attention norms we can leverage cross-platform for planning. We combine this data with our cost and impressions to evaluate the value that different channels and formats bring through the lens of effective attention.”

Mediahub meanwhile has created a platform called ARC (Attentive Reach & Composition), which draws on research from Lumen. ARC rates IAB standard formats as well as specific media partners based on attention, and that data is used to inform planning.

Mediahub’s Djazmi says that ARC is driving real changes in spending, highlighting formats and publishers which may score highly for viewability, but actually score poorly for attention.

BuzzFeed is one example. BuzzFeed will often penetrate highly against MediaHub’s client audiences, and scores well for viewability, but attention is very low. Djazmi attributes this to clutter – BuzzFeed crams a lot of content onto its homepage, with ads sandwiched between BuzzFeed’s own articles. “It’s really hard for those ads to compete for attention”, says Djazmi.

Too big to ignore

Importantly, optimising for attention is driving both upper and lower funnel metrics for Mediahub’s clients. Given the success so far, the agency is looking to make even greater use of attention metrics across the business.

Mediahub is already conducting research on outdoor inventory, and TV is on the horizon too. “TV is still a bit nascent,” said Djazmi. “We’re waiting for TVision or another TV panel partner to penetrate the market, and then we’ll kick that off.”

Dentsu similarly sees an even bigger role for attention metrics further down the line.

“We are continuously building out our suite of attention capabilities from an activation and measurement standpoint so that it will be infused end-to-end across planning, optimisation, and measurement,” said Leong.

The ultimate endorsement of attention metrics’ value would be if they were to start being used as a currency in media buys. Several vendors offer metrics which are explicitly designed to be used as a currency.

Leong said this is very possible, but will take time. “We have tested the use of attention as a currency, but to scale this approach will require additional industry alignment outside of dentsu—something we’d love to see and are continuously working towards with the rest of the industry,” she said. “We’re confident that attention metrics are only going to continue to grow in relevancy, and become more widely adopted.”

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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