In this exclusive Q&A, Heather Lloyd, head of product marketing at Nano Interactive, outlines why attention has come to the fore, the challenges surrounding how ad effectiveness is measured, and how using attention as a metric could evolve.
How does the attention economy of today differ from that in place prior to the pandemic?
I don’t know how much Covid and lockdowns changed attention long-term, but they certainly had a strong impact on how we consume media.
Short-term changes included the obvious: less out of home advertising, generally a stronger digital focus and more VOD and TV. To the not-so-obvious: older audiences increased their use of traditional media such as print, linear TV and radio, for the first time since 2015.
But there were also other, longer-term shifts which I think are even more interesting: we embraced more hobbies and passions to distract ourselves from the need to be inside.
More than 30% said they had a closer relationship with their favourite magazine than they did before – bringing about new opportunities for titles who fostered these reader relationships, and where user attention would arguably be much stronger than other media.
Through Covid, there was also arguably growth in what we might call passive attention. For example, in-game advertising or podcasts. Somewhat like product placement on TV, these are media where for a variety of reasons, we may not be delivering active attention – either because podcasts are played while we are pursuing other activities; or because when playing a Formula One car game, we aren’t spending a significant portion of time staring at the ads around the track.
But this doesn’t mean that they are not important and effective spaces for brands to be present in – it’s all about understanding what brand outcome you want to deliver. This is an example of why it is important not to be too quick to come to conclusions around a single or “unified view” of attention.
How important has attention become in measuring the effectiveness of digital advertising?
We are facing a culmination of challenges around measurement – principally, with cookies no longer supported by browsers like Safari, and others like Google Chrome set to follow. Arguably, tech has forced us into an era of creativity around measurement – and that’s why attention is here now (even if it was actually needed years ago).
It’s worth remembering that cookies were not originally created with advertising in mind. They have morphed into a way of comparing like for like, but above all because of convenience, rather than the fact they delivered true value.
We’ve known for some time that measuring clicks alone doesn’t necessarily serve advertisers’ (or publishers’) best interests. But now there’s growing, industry-wide acceptance that when ads are actually seen and paid attention to, they deliver positive branding results. It seems crazy to say it, but this hasn’t always been a priority in the past.
Of course, attention is very important right now because we are living in a time when we are being forced to completely rethink how we quantify effectiveness. And because there is change in the air, across the entire landscape, without a clear definition of what the solution is.
What are the main challenges to using attention as a metric?
No one likes change – and on top of this, there are clear constraints in terms of timing. Brands for example often have to plan thresholds for metrics they aim to deliver anywhere from a quarter to a year in advance. So, change takes time, planning and to put it lightly, is a big deal.
With any new metric, there is a strong element of experimentation – of test and learn. But there is also necessarily a gap when it comes to testing like for like. So, alongside testing, we must also share learnings which will allow for a level playing field when comparing partner solutions.
How do you think using attention as a metric will evolve over the next couple of years?
Right now, we just don’t know. We are starting to understand impact, but with so many new options and methodologies for attention metrics, as well as multiple different ways to track attention I think this is a time for us to be open to new initiatives and embrace this time of test and learn.
I think in the future attention will be a customisable outcome based on clients’ business or marketing objectives. We will understand that if you want to drive saliency, you will focus on certain levers and understand how much focus to put on each of those levers.
I think we will come to understand that attention can be more of an umbrella term which can be tweaked to deliver different results, rather than a single number.
We have become really obsessed with delivering what looks good on an Excel spreadsheet and less focused on what drives brand outcomes, which is what really matters.
We don’t want attention to fall into the trap of short-termism, which is what digital media is always at risk of – if anything could be tracked, it would be. And arguably, that led to an over-focus on performance, rather than on metrics that also build brand awareness and mental availability.