Blink and You Miss It: Why Attention is the Key to Successful Advertising

Attention is the new key currency in advertising. The better you can capture it and the longer you can maintain it, the greater impact your advertising campaigns can have. Here we take a look at the Advertising Value Chain and showcase how it can assist us in measuring attention across the full advertising spectrum with greater success.

The Swedish Cross Media Measurement (CMM) project, an initiative driven by Sveriges Annonsörer (the Swedish Advertisers’ Association), has as its goal to make it easier for advertisers to understand and compare the attractiveness of different media channels when planning their advertising campaigns. An important part of the CMM project is what is called the Advertising Value Chain. This model helps clarify the different stages in distributing and displaying advertising content to the different media channels’ audiences.

Distribution metrics vs People metrics

In simple terms, the Advertising Value Chain identifies the different stages – and the measurements used – for both distribution metrics and people metrics. Distribution metrics cover aspects such as ads served, ads delivered to devices (impressions) and ads delivered on screens (viewable/in-screen impressions). Here we measure what is distributed and eventually displayed, but the measurements do not cover what happens at the receiving end. People metrics, on the other hand, do include aspects such as the number of individuals represented by metrics such as media reach, ad reach and visible ad reach. But even these metrics do not really tell us much about what happens in the minds of the people exposed to the ads.


Attention research and viewer engagement

One of the things attention research, such as the work done by Karen Nelson-Field, has taught us is that it is not enough for an ad to be visible for there to be an effect. The ad needs to be viewed, and preferably viewed for sufficiently long time for the viewer’s brain to register and process the content and create a memory effect. In other words, not only must the ad generate attention, i.e. cause the viewer’s eyes to focus on the ad, but it must do so for some length of time.

The obvious question then becomes “how long is sufficiently long?” And as so often, the answer is a non-committed “it depends”.  But fear not, there are some simple rules of thumb to guide us. A good benchmark is around 2.5 to 3 seconds. That is the approximate level that Karen Nelson-Field’s work identifies as where the advertising is likely to impact the audience and create more long-lasting memory effects for the brand being advertised. It also means there is sufficient time for the brain to take in, process and interpret the messages received: who is it from and what are they trying to tell me?

Platforms and attention levels

But not everything needs – or will get – the same levels of attention. First of all, much of the attention levels are defined by the platforms used. In short, the more skippable and scrollable the media platform is, the shorter the attention will be. One way of compensating for this shorter attention span is to increase the number of insertions. It is not an exact mathematical formula, however. 

Just as ads with high attention levels manage to strengthen the brand with lower media exposure levels, ads with lower attention levels are able to reach similar brand effects, but at the cost of higher, and sometimes much higher, distribution and frequency levels. 

It is also possible that not all advertising messages need the same level of attention, especially those that do not seek to create the same level of long-lasting memory effects. A well-known brand can remind people of its existence by mainly featuring its logo – or other distinctive brand asset – and thereby reinforce its mental availability in the market. Especially if it also does this in parallel in other channels at the same time. 

Similarly, a simple message of “HALF-PRICE SALE” is both likely to be easier to understand than a specific price offer for a certain product, and will also be principally focused on driving short-term activity rather than long-term brand effects.

Evaluating attention across the Advertising Value Chain

Hence, when measuring attention levels and a brand’s “share of attention” performance, make sure you evaluate attention across the full spectrum of measurements. A good approach is to always look at these stages of the advertising value chain

  1. Served/delivered impressions – the technical distribution level
  2. Viewable impressions – how many or what proportion of the served impressions that had the technical possibility to capture the viewer’s attention
  3. Viewed impressions – the number or proportion of impressions where the ad actually captured the attention of the viewer
  4. Threshold level viewed impressions – the proportion of impressions where the ad captured the viewer’s attention for sufficiently long time for there to be a reasonable chance of the ad’s message creating some form of memory impact in the viewer’s mind

Unfortunately, many advertisers will see their campaign numbers dwindle significantly as they expand their analysis from stage 1 to stage 4. So, the first remedy is that we need to ensure the audiences are exposed to and look at the advertising message long enough for us to create lasting brand effects – or rather, that they don’t blink and miss it. Or alternatively, battle on in the sea of sameness, with advertising messages and media channel choices that deliver neither sufficient attention levels nor attention volumes. If we ignore the need to get the desired levels, the risk is obvious that we ourselves can blink and risk missing the miniscule proportion of viewers that make it through to level 4.

Contact us