The power of attention, your new favourite metric

The term ‘attention economy’ was coined by Herbert A. Simon (psychologist, economist, and Nobel Laureate) who, in 1971, proposed that attention was the ‘bottleneck of human thought’ that limits both what we can grasp in stimulating environments, and what we can do.

Fast forward to today, and this couldn’t be more relevant. Content is plentiful and readily available at our fingertips, and paired with constantly changing user behaviours online, capturing attention and retaining new information is becoming increasingly difficult. People’s attention has become a scarce commodity. With this in mind, it’s clear why attention has become a hot topic for advertisers – it’s a key part of the formula to cut through in an oversaturated market in the era of mass online consumption. 

Out with the old, in with the new

For almost a decade, viewability has been the industry standard for measuring the quality of impressions. Despite giving the industry a minimum benchmark for what brands should be paying for, it’s a flawed measure of quality. 

Viewability considers all impressions equal, ignoring whether or not an ad is noticed or if the impression resulted in a meaningful exposure. It’s clear we need to find a better solution, and measuring attention might be the answer.

It’s hard to define what effective attention looks like. It’s not just one metric but many stitched together, and those such as in-view, above the fold, dwell time, sound on etc., are all valuable at helping us understand if the user was paying attention. While attention is a crude measure of quality, and even though the metrics we track can be subjective, it’s a step in the right direction towards standardising measurement across all media.

Putting attention to work 

Brand media is one of the key applications of attention-as-a-metric. Historically, the defaults for brand reporting have been shallow reach and frequency metrics, but reporting on attention empowers us to challenge the activity we are buying and add more rigour to the insights we can share with the client.

Not only does it allow us to optimise our channel mix to environments we know drive quality, it also lets us adapt plans mid-campaign based on formats, placements and publishers rather than wait for post-campaign brand lift studies. We can now even activate media based on attention metrics, with some suppliers offering trading on attention CPMs.

It starts to get really exciting when we correlate attention metrics against other outcomes. In theory, driving quality and higher dwell times should drive better recall and even higher purchase intent. Attention is not limited to upper funnel activity, and there are many other hypotheses we should be exploring, such as:

  • Is there a tangible link between attention and sales? 
  • Does context increase attention?
  • Does higher attention drive more engaged users to sites? 
  • Are there links between creative messaging and increased attention?

Responsible buying is something that we should all be taking seriously and attention is one part of the puzzle. Delivering quality should be a priority and measuring eyeballs (or bots) on ads is no longer enough in this mass online era. The way we consume media has changed and is set to evolve further as behaviours continue to shift.

Looking to the future

Looking ahead, measuring attention using sophisticated eye tracking solutions will only become more important when authenticating reach within the new VR and AR landscapes – which like it or not, are closer than we think! 

Eye tracking is the gold standard for tracking attention, however, this is not easy to track right now. At Croud, we use a variety of metrics, such as in-view, completion rates, audio on, dwell time and interaction rates to calculate our attention proxy, but this is an iterative process and one that requires on-going testing for us to find the optimal formula.

If you would like to discuss the topics mentioned above, or if your advertising efforts are in need of a little attention, get in touch today.

by Nikkita Sidhu
21 June 2022

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