Knee-Jerk Marketers Should Pay More Attention


Most marketers are still doing knee-jerk digital marketing. They are reacting to situations without forethought, planning, or data. How do I know? The last several months gave us several juicy examples to cite. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, marketers frantically added keywords like “coronavirus” and “covid-19” to their so-called “brand safety” keyword block lists. This resulted in their ads being blocked from mainstream news sites like wsj.com and nytimes.com. The screenshots below show the blue “cloud ads” that appear when real ads are blocked from news sites for pages that contain blocked keywords. 

The same thing happened again for keywords related to the Black Lives Matter and police brutality protests. Further, in the last week, dozens of major advertisers jumped on the #StopHateForProfit bandwagon to boycott advertising on Facebook, because of Facebook’s policy on hate speech on the platform and in ads. But some of these boycotts are only for the month of July. Seriously? What if Facebook doesn’t change their policies by the end of July? Would advertisers continue to pause their ad spend? What about Facebook Audience Network and all of their other digital ad spend going through programmatic ad exchanges that still fund hate sites, fake news, and disinformation? Right, not a lot of forethought or planning driven by data. 

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Knee-Jerk Marketers Unknowingly Fund Fake News, Hate, and Fraud Sites

By blocking their own ads on real news sites, marketers accidentally sent more of their ad budgets to lower quality sites, like fake news sites, hate sites, and fraud sites in the programmatic “long tail.” Ads shown on long-tail sites are at much higher risk of ad fraud — i.e. ads shown to bots — because those sites don’t have large human audiences and have to buy all their traffic to make ad revenue. That traffic is virtually all automated software designed to repeatedly load webpages – aka “bots.” These bots load the page to cause the ads to load, and then leave right away to load the next page. By not showing their ads on legitimate mainstream news sites, marketers missed out, because record numbers of humans were visiting real news sites during the pandemic. 

Humans Pay Attention; Knee-Jerk Marketers Need to Pay More Attention

Knee-jerk marketers need to pay more attention. And I mean that both figuratively and literally. Let me explain. Humans pay “attention,” particularly on news sites because they want to be there and are actually looking at the content — and that’s desirable for advertisers, especially those doing branding campaigns. Humans have to see the ad, or else no “branding” effect takes place. 

Data from Lumen Research shows the performance of display ads on Task vs Browse sites. “Task” sites include weather, dictionaries, travel booking, and retail sites where humans are doing specific tasks. “Browse” sites include magazines, social media, forums, and news sites, which humans browse. Ads shown on “browse” sites exhibit favorable characteristics across all dimensions, like viewability, % viewed, and dwell time. Note in the eye tracking heatmaps on the right side, humans “gaze” much further down the page on browse sites compared to task sites. This makes sense since people who are “on task” looking up the weather, will do the task and then leave.

Marketers who are paying attention in digital are also probably already measuring and optimizing for “viewability” which means a digital ad has the opportunity to be seen. The industry standard defines viewability as “50% of the pixels of the ad in view for 1 second.” This is a good starting point. But why not 100% of the pixels in view? Or what if the person scrolls by the ad quickly and doesn’t pay attention to it? Or what if the user was not a person at all, but a bot? Is there a better way to measure, that takes these things into account? Yes. Attention.

“Attention” Captures What Viewability, CPMs, and CTRs Don’t

Beyond just the opportunity to be seen – “viewability” – it’s more important to measure “attention.” Attention captures the following: 1) could the ad be seen? 2) was it actually seen? and 3) how long was it seen? Obviously, it’s a much stricter definition; but data further shows that it’s the right metric to use because more attention means more business outcomes. That’s what a marketer wants, right?

The attention metric captures what “viewability” alone misses, because it takes into account context (e.g. “Task” sites versus “Browse” sites), coverage (percent of screen occupied by ad), and dwell time. Of course the ad itself must have the opportunity to be seen (“viewability”) but the nature of the site, what the human is doing on the site, and how long they are doing it impacts ad recall and therefore real business outcomes. Humans can’t do what marketers want them to do if they didn’t see the ad and don’t recall the message, obviously. 

The following two charts below show 1) a strong correlation (nearly 2X) between an increase in “attention” and an increase in ROI, and 2) optimizing for attention drives a higher lift in all brand-related metrics compared to viewability. 

Finally, marketers also use CPMs (cost per thousand) and CTRs (click through rates) as metrics in digital campaigns. These are easily measurable, but further data from Adelaide shows that CPMs are not well correlated with attention and therefore not well correlated with outcomes. Click through rates are also not as useful for measuring ads used in “branding and awareness” campaigns. Based on the research cited here, attention units turn out to be the most reliable way of measuring digital ad exposure, compared to viewability, CPMs, or CTRs. Using attention units to measure campaigns means marketers can optimize their campaigns while in flight and better predict business outcomes.

According to Marc Guldimann, CEO of Adelaide: “When we launched Adelaide we expected that attention would be predictive of outcomes at the top of the funnel. Research bore that out. Over many more campaigns since then, we’ve documented that Attention Units are predictive of outcomes throughout the funnel, all the way down to sales outcomes. Brands who optimize programmatic media to Attention Units have been able to increase campaign performance by 25-50% consistently. This is because Attention Units take into account differences in CPM prices, real human viewability, and the effects of context – the nature of the site, the coverage of the ad, and the dwell time.”

Smart marketers have already made the transition from viewability, CPMs, and CTRs to measuring attention units. Yesterday, at the second The Attention Council Summit, companies like Microsoft, MARS, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Tesco, Diageo, LVMH, and others shared learnings and best practices and more importantly examples of improvements to the outcomes from their digital campaigns. These marketers are making a conscious shift to measuring their digital campaigns on an “attention” basis and optimizing them based on this metric.

Marketers paying attention are also now measuring for and optimizing to attention, as it were.



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