5 myths about attention in advertising

Jul 7, 2021

The attention economy is on everyone’s lips, and with good reason.

Whether we measure it or not, there is one fundamental truth: advertising doesn’t work without attention.

It doesn’t matter how much you spent on your ad, which celebrities feature in it or how funny it is, if no-one is looking it will have no impact. Yet, despite its fundamental importance to the success and failure of advertising, advertisers are largely buying advertising without considering the attention performance of the media they are buying. Worse still, they’re being shortchanged.

Shortchanged by proxy metrics that tell them little if anything about whether anyone actually saw their ads or not. Shortchanged by a system of buying and selling ads based on impressions and the traditional opportunity-to-see (OTS). Shortchanged by a system that means advertisers simply do not get what they pay for.

In the attention economy, the most important element is actual human viewing. Did someone see the ad? We’re not talking about cognitive processing here. Humans are complex. Just because someone looks, doesn’t mean they are fully engaged or processing the information. But simply knowing whether someone is looking at an ad is a vast improvement on an OTS.

As the industry looks closely at how actual attention metrics can successfully be integrated into their media buying and planning processes, it’s important to have a clear picture of attention.

Amplified Intelligence has been tracking human attention to advertising and its impact on brand and business metrics since 2017. So to help, we had a look back through our data and research studies to uncover some of the most common myths. Enjoy!

Myth 1: Consumers are paying attention

Let’s start with some hard truths around attention—or should we say, lack of attention.

While some marketers like to think they have a captive audience just waiting to see which ad campaign they are going to push out next, most humans simply aren’t that interested in advertising. They certainly don’t pay continued, deep and sustained attention to it.

And in the Age of Distraction, it’s only getting harder. Competing with a growing list of digital distractions, an avalanche of content from attention-hungry competitors and an increasingly noisy internet, brands face an uphill task trying to get people to take notice at all.

Put that together with our attention data that shows how people switch focus continually, paying attention only 50% of the time, and you start to realise just how hard attention is to earn.

Myth 2: All attention is the same

Humans are bombarded with so much information every second of every day, they live in a perpetual state of subconsciousness.

We track human gaze, measuring whether someone is paying attention 5 times every second. And we see in our data that people flit rapidly between looking at the ad, looking at the screen but not at the ad, and looking away from the screen completely—all during the time the ad is supposedly ‘in view’.

At Amplified, we use 3 levels of ad attention:
● Active Attention – looking directly at the ad
● Passive Attention – eyes nearby, but not looking directly at the ad
● Non-Attention – face not detected or, for television, not in the room.

And it’s active attention that matters the most. Our research shows a strong correlation between active attention and various brand and business uplifts. Unsurprisingly, the analysis also shows that if no active attention is gained, we can expect zero uplifts.

It’s important to note that the amount of switching between these attention states varies between platforms. And the rate of switching that a platform environment delivers affects the overall attention performance of the platform.

Myth 3: Viewability is a good proxy for attention

The MRC set video viewability standards at 50% of the ad in view for 2 seconds for the ad to be deemed viewable. But time on screen only tells you how long the ad was available to be looked at. It doesn’t tell you whether anyone was actually looking, or even the likelihood that they would be looking.

Our research shows that even after viewability standards are applied, on average only 50% of impressions are actually looked at. And for the vast majority of the people who did look, chances are less than 100% of the ad was in view.

Time-in-view can equally represent viewer distraction. And besieged by an ever-growing amount of clutter, it’s no wonder that consumer distraction levels are at the highest they have ever been. Yet legacy metrics are still selling an opportunity-to-see as if nothing has changed. Even though the likelihood of that opportunity appears to be diminishing.

Myth 4: Prominent branding should take the back seat

How many times have you remembered an ad but not the brand?
Quality branding is an underrated element of ad success. It seems obvious, but if a viewer can’t connect the content they are seeing to the correct brand, you’ve just wasted your advertising dollars. Worse still, they will most likely fill in the blanks with largest brand in your category. If that’s not you, you just did someone a solid favour with your advertising budget.

Even if the ad is branded, but the part of the ad they did see was the top of someone’s head minus the brand, again, you wasted your advertising dollars. Anything below 100% pixels in view means diminished attention (and sales).

The best way to use your brand is to align its appearance with attention peaks. We can see in our research that sales are amplified when attention peaks and branding are aligned.

Myth 5: Two seconds is enough

The only way to ensure your brand stays in someone’s head at the point of purchase is to drive up the amount of active attention your ads generate, particularly at the start.

But how many seconds of someone’s attention do you need to make a lasting impression?

Our data show a real difference in impact among ads above and below the two-second mark. This is consistent across all platforms, even TV. Less than two seconds of attention paid can have an effect, but there is a sizable and positive impact on brand choice above the two-second mark.

Then you need to think about long-term effects. Advertising decay is the rate at which the effect of advertising erodes over time. We see consistently that ads that gain higher attention on initial exposure stay in memory for longer. The impact of the ad is more enduring.

The more attention paid to a well-branded ad, the longer the brand stays in memory. Each attention second, on average, leads to 3 days in memory.

There you go, 5 attention myths busted.

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