'It's Time for the Next Step in Digital Advertising: Eyetracking', by Darren Hamer, MD UK, Sticky

Have we left the brand advertisers behind? It’s time for non-response to receive insight in digital advertising. One of the big debates in the digital market today is around viewability, but in many ways the debate seems to be missing the key issue. It’s not simply a question of whether or not your advert has the opportunity to be seen (although that’s important). Rather, it needs to be about insight, guidance and effectiveness, whether your ads are actually physically seen in the right place, and in the right way, for how long and by whom.

Talking about a real CPV (cost-per-view) is about going beyond what we measure today, to what is actually seen by the users. In so many ways, the old idea of above or below the fold is not strong enough and does not leave behind any actionable insight for future work. Massive over-claiming in the digital industry has damaged us with brand advertising clients, it’s now time to open our welcoming arms and reap the rewards.

Today‘s metrics around visual only measure if ads are placed above or below the fold and/or whether they have the potential to be seen. Don’t get me wrong, that serves a purpose from a validity and auditing perspective, but what does it tell us about the audience and the true success and engagement of that spend? The current debate, which has received a lot of focus from some big names, focuses on whether the ad is ‘in-screen’. Our research shows that over 30% of those in-screen ads are not actually physically viewed by users, as such, viewability is just the tip of the iceberg of where we need to be. What we need to make the online advertising experience more insightful for brands is an understanding how long, why and where ads are viewed.

That means it is not just about whether an advert is being viewed, but also understanding the viewing experience in terms of ad engagement and effectiveness. That can enable a brand to take that insight and use it to drive future advertising and online business moving forward. One good example was the launch of Facebook's new Page Post Ad format in October 2012. It shows each ad directly in a user's news feed, side-by-side with posts from friends, and the new format had a huge impact on the number of people who actually looked at the ads. Our studies have shown that actual brand recall is huge for advertisers in this position and actual engagement and true viewing of these positions is vastly superior to many traditional placements.

Using webcams, Sticky tracked gaze patterns on Facebook pages featuring the new ads. In five independent and unconnected online visual performance studies, results showed that the Facebook Page Post Ad attracted 92% of a user's gaze; a visibility 200% higher than the Facebook Standard Ad, which was only noticed by 46% of users. The uplift that provides for advertisers makes a huge difference. Whatever opinions many of us may have about the Page Post Ad, it clearly works for a targeted brand campaign, but without actionable analytics, such as Sticky, we would all be left with our own thoughts on the matter and no rational numbers to back its potential value.

The digital community set ourselves up for a fall in the beginning by often trying to ignore the research methodology that traditional channels (such as print, TV, DM and outdoor) had long since been using. They have been using research tools and models for decades that have provided invaluable customer insight, so we should also be learning from them. We can adapt these models using today’s technology and actually track and record the impact these have. It enables us to do things like analyse the response mechanisms that work in TV and work out how to adapt them to online. That will help us increase digital brand spend through efficiency.

What we need to provide to attract TV brand spend to online is add additional relevant insight to audience engagement and effectiveness. This doesn’t mean over-burdening the client with data and metrics that bare no relevance and provide no clarity, but simple actionable insights that give ‘in the moment’ guidance for brand advertisers on a similar level to what response campaigns receive.

Eyetracking is nothing new, it has been used for a long time. What is new is the fact that webcam technology now allows brands to conduct research from a home environment, making it far more cost-effective for companies, plus the fact that users can be sourced from around the globe. It is cost-effective and scalable for brands looking at a true cost-per-view.

McDonalds are not going to be interested in a simple click-through rate, what is more useful to them is if their online advertising can provide them with insight, e.g. percentage of 18-25-year-olds who looked at a new burger launch offer for over three seconds longer on Site A than on Site B and C. It can help them better plan future campaigns, creative, media and offers. Publishers, agencies and brands are interested in insight from online advertising that can shape and drive their business forward and give them a truer rationale as to why they should be investing more in the online, tablet and mobile channels, over their more traditional routes.

An example of a global name that has used webcam eyetracking to enhance their online spend and produce more focused brand advertising is P&G. They wished to increase the overall performance of their online advertising campaigns across a number of brands. They provided us with their media plan and Sticky then conducted eyetracking research across their media, enabling them to measure the true value of each position on the media plan. Changing their strategy based on the results and observations of the research, they increased overall spend on sites that showed valid value and increased overall campaign effectiveness by 22% to 44% on the brands in question. What that means, is that online advertising can help provide real brand awareness in an insightful way through actionable insights – as well as having a significant impact on margins in an environment that previously operated on guesswork and hunches.

Surely, we have to start welcoming brand currency if we really want to drive innovation in our space, and online eyetracking offers a solution to kick-start this, after all, the eyes don’t lie!