Why attention metrics are now key to brands being seen in the digital world

attention metrics

The term ‘attention economy’ is the latest buzzword doing the rounds in the marketing world, but its origins go all the way back to the 1970s, when Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon first coined the phrase.

His theory was that a wealth of information created a poverty of attention, which makes our time a valuable and limited resource that brands need to target efficiently.

Not an easy task in the relentlessly busy digital world we live in today. 

So we asked Ben Dimond, who is Head of EMEA at attention intelligence platform Playground xyz, to talk us through the importance of attention metrics and to share his firm’s recent research on attention, context and creative…

Ben Diamond
Ben Dimond, Head of EMEA, Playground xyz,

Attention is a buzzword for 2022, but what sets it apart from other metrics?

The challenge with metrics like click-through rate is they tend to produce sparse data, making it difficult for brands to collect quality data and produce actionable insights. 

Viewability metrics do not have a user-based feedback loop, so they don’t tell us if users are resonating with an ad.

Attention, on the other hand, is a user-based metric and is a much better predictor of outcomes. 

This is because it’s ‘non-sparse’ (i.e. it gives brands access to a wealth of good-quality data) and measurable across every impression, making it easier to determine the effectiveness and performance of ads.

This data can also be optimised in real time, enabling publishers to make smarter and more data-driven decisions (for instance, which ad placements to buy).

Tell us a little more about the evolution of attention 

Attention itself isn’t a new concept – it’s been around for years. But for me, the approach to measuring attention has certainly changed in recent years.

When I was a print buyer, we put a lot of value on the right-hand page instead of the left-hand page – because we knew that ads on the right-hand side were getting noticed more.

It was the same with TV buyers back in the 80s and 90s. Most buyers bought the very first ad during a commercial break because they knew people were more likely to stick around and see an ad in that specific window of time.

All of this was driven by a need to understand and track attention. But it wasn’t until the internet emerged – along with ad servers – that tracking and measuring attention really came to the fore.

internet attention metrics - Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay
Attention metrics: The internet has made tracking our behaviour much easier and far more accurate.

With ad servers came impression and click-through tracking – both of which were an early way of understanding the kinds of ads that were viewable.

Eventually, viewability became a core metric – giving brands an indicator of how long an ad needed to stay on the screen to increase its chances of being viewed.

What advances have you seen take place within the industry?

AI and machine learning have propelled attention into the spotlight and made it easier for brands and publishers to create models. 

The development of camera technology – such as eye-tracking – has also opened up a whole new world of attention metrics, giving brands an even easier way to measure ad engagement.

We’re seeing a big increase in the number of brands talking about and implementing attention as part of their advertising strategy. 

We created our own whitepaper on attention in 2019 and have followed that up just recently with an investigation into the relationship between context, ad creative and attention. 

Dentsu released a whitepaper called The Attention Economy last year, and Karen Nelson-Field, CEO of Amplified Intelligence, has released a book about attention in media.

There’s definitely a desire – particularly from media agency groups – to better understand attention and how it can add value to their campaigns – and there are a number of AdTech vendors, including ourselves, helping them get to grips with how powerful attention can really be.

How is the cookie cull likely to affect attention?

Despite Google’s most recent announcement delaying the death of the cookie for another year (or two!), the industry knows it has to be ready to operate in a world without cookies, leaving many brands wondering how they’ll be able to track performance without this key identifier. 

This pressure to find new measurement and tracking opportunities is likely to warm up even more advertisers to the world of attention metrics.

Since they don’t intrude on a user’s privacy or personal data, these metrics are a great substitute for cookies from a measurement perspective.

attention metrics - from playground xyz
After cookies: Playground XYZ launched the first live stack to capture, measure and optimise attention.

How are brands implementing attention?

The first stage is research – brands and publishers need to understand attention and how they can utilise it to maximise their marketing potential. 

Lumen, for example, is carrying out eye-tracking studies and delivering tests to panels in a bid to better understand attention and how it can bring value to brands.

The second stage is channel planning. By this stage, brands and publishers already understand the basics of attention – they’re now looking to put together a media plan that incorporates attention metrics into the mix.

The third stage is campaign measurement. Brands may have done the groundwork and put their plans into action, but if they don’t track performance, they won’t be able to understand what’s working and what isn’t. 

This will also enable publishers to gain key insights into how much attention their ads are generating and whether specific channels (e.g. Youtube or CTV) are delivering better results than others.

The final stage is campaign optimisation. Once brands and publishers have measured their ads, they will want to optimise in real time to generate even higher levels of attention.

attention metrics and brands - Image by Nathan Copley from Pixabay
Higher level: Attention metrics can help brands optimise their digital marketing strategies.

What advice would you give brands on their attention journey?

Partner with a vendor or, better still, multiple vendors with different areas of expertise. 

When it comes to campaign measurement and optimisation, I would definitely recommend choosing a vendor that incorporates eye-tracking technology into its solution. 

You don’t have to use eye-tracking on every single campaign, but it’s worth finding a vendor that has it baked into its model as it makes measuring attention much more accurate and meaningful, not to mention scalable.

What does the future of attention hold? 

Brands will start paying closer attention to creative (images, audio and video) and the kind of impact that it has on attention levels.

First-party data will be another interesting area, particularly for publishers. 

Creating segmentation around that data will become popular – for instance, dividing users into ‘high-attentional’ and ‘super-attentional’ categories for more informed campaign execution.