What we’ve learned after five years looking at attention in media

What we’ve learned after five years looking at attention in media


We’re finding that online inventory that doesn’t get looked at at all tends to cost the same as the inventory which does get looked at.

I read with interest Geoff De Burca’s recent thoughts on solving what he terms ‘the attention paradox’.

Firstly, how brilliant that our industry, which has relied on the same outdated metrics for too long, is really engaging with a conversation about an alternative.

The importance of attention has long been recognised but it’s the advent of eye tracking technologies, that has made it viable for us to observe it at scale –  enabling upgrades to claimed attention benchmarks in planning tools and the creation of more sophisticated solutions beyond.

Having this insight into the relationship between media consumption in different sets of circumstances and the attention paid to the corresponding advertising, is a great opportunity for our industry, so it’s only right that all the constituent parts of it are now fully engaged in the topic.

At Dentsu we launched our multiyear research programme, the Attention Economy, in 2017 and to date our studies have observed 10,000 respondents across more than 300,000 ads. We have also been learning through real-world examples, applying an attention lens in a number of ways across a number of different client campaigns.

We’ve always been open to sharing our learnings on this topic so, in that spirit, we have addressed a few of the points raised in De Burca’s piece where it is evident there is still some debate.

‘More is more’ when it comes to attention

Is attention valuable?

Yes. Fundamentally, attention is always necessary, even if fleeting!

Quite simply, we know that the more attention paid to a campaign, the greater the number of people that will recall it and the greater the number of people who will choose the brand –  that’s just fact.

But is attention really necessary for big brands?

Yes. Of course, there is nuance in all of this and priming is certainly part of that –  we’ve seen first-hand how less well-known brands, require more seconds of eyes on attention than better0known brands within the same category, in order to drive the same volumes of recall and choice.

But, when we’ve seen that more is more when it comes to attention and effect, why settle for less?

Attention remains a crucial lever to maximise campaign effectiveness, whatever that start-point!

But surely greater attention leads to greater cost?

Not always. Certainly, it would be true if we were to apply attention in a really blunt way – e.g. just put all your money into cinema because that’s where attention is likely to be maximised! Instead, more sophisticated application will enable us to enhance what we do within the individual channel and platforms.

Interestingly, what we’re beginning to see in digital is that the inventory that doesn’t get looked at at all (often those that game the viewability system) – tend to cost the same as the inventory which will get looked at.

So, we can actually optimise toward greater attention, which in turn drives greater effect, and the CPMs are unaffected. Essentially, it’s more, for the same.  Admittedly, we hadn’t expected this either.

Okay, but surely classifying attention as “eye gaze’’ is limiting?

Correct. It’s vital we account for the power of sound too! From our very first study we saw immense value in this, particularly in TV but also in digital video too. We intentionally dug deeper into this in our second study, ensuring that we could account for its value in our optimisation and measurement.

What next?

At Dentsu we are serious about changing the way media is planned and bought for the better and we believe attention is vital to that ambition. In turn, we champion anyone engaging with the topic.

However, the best route to progression has to be through learning and it’s now in our gift to be able to do this, through new measurement capabilities.

Our learning journey continues with a third study wave planned with our key research partner Lumen, and more valuable real-world application with our Effective Attention solution across our digital activations.

In short, the more we learn about attention and all its various nuance, the better we can understand and account for it in our solutions to best maximise campaign effectiveness for our clients.

Katie Hartley is managing director, product & innovation, Dentsu Data Labs

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