The Battle for Attention: Capturing and Retaining Audiences with Outbrain

As digital marketers clear through the clutter and craft a resonating brand message, they hope to capture the most precious and fleeting element of all - attention.

Amidst a dynamic data landscape, publishers are on the lookout for fresh approaches to showcase the worth of their premium inventory. In this ongoing pursuit, attention measurement emerges as a novel and reliable source of truth. This is especially the case as cookies start to crumble and impressions and clicks are seen as increasingly unreliable measurements.

We talked to Outbrain's head of enterprise, Alex Cheeseman, to see exactly why attention is the ad metric that really matters.

How important is attention as a metric, and how does this vary across the marketing funnel?

In advertising, attention functions as a critical metric. Let's think of attention as a form of cognitive currency — it is scarce, valued, and can be deployed strategically. Indeed, it forms the backbone of how the audience processes and responds to advertising.

Now, consider the marketing funnel, a theoretical construct representing the journey of the customer. At different levels, the function and value of attention differ:

1. Awareness: In this phase, the audience's attention must be piqued, and it's here where advertising often plays the role of the disruptor. In the sea of information, brands must stand out, disrupting the passive flow of content to capture attention.

2. Consideration: Once initial attention is garnered, the role of advertising shifts. Here, it is about holding that attention, nudging the potential customer to actively contemplate the product or brand. Advertisements must shift from disruptive to engaging, compelling consumers to invest more of their cognitive resources.

3. Conversion: At this crucial decision-making stage, brands face a different challenge. The focus shifts from gaining and holding attention to capitalising on it. Here, advertising must help consumers translate their accumulated knowledge and interest into a conversion, or in other words, a decision — the ultimate goal of any marketing funnel.

So, the importance of attention as an advertising metric is indisputable. It's a dynamic, versatile tool that brands must leverage strategically across the marketing funnel. Attention is a pivotal determinant in whether a brand simply exists in the market or thrives in it. In the end, attention can transform advertising from mere information delivery to a cognitive encounter that drives purchase decisions.

What will be the evolution of attention as an ad metric after identifier deprecation?

As we navigate the post-identifier advertising landscape, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: attention is assuming a more central role in the marketing mix. With third-party cookies and mobile ad IDs going the way of the dinosaur, advertisers are staring at a profound shift in strategy, with attention emerging as a promising beacon.

Let's begin with the shift away from hyper-personalisation. The fading of granular tracking offers an opportunity for an attention-based advertising approach that respects the user's privacy, focusing more on captivating and holding viewer interest rather than meticulously dissecting their online behaviour.

A transition from an excessive focus on personal data to prioritising the quality of interaction encourages advertisers to concentrate on developing content that genuinely connects. Attention providers, such as Adelaide, offer more than just viewing duration as a measure of attention. Their capacity to deliver significant insights without violating user privacy paves the way for an advertising approach that places greater importance on the content itself.

Success metrics, too, need a reevaluation. Traditional metrics like click-through rates or impressions, reliant as they are on personal data, are giving way to a new set of parameters. New attention-based parameters offer a measure of advertising impact that aligns better with the user’s digital space and, importantly, their right to privacy.

Attention is three times better at predicting campaign outcomes than viewability.

Moreover, the growing prominence of attention in the advertising equation is likely to ignite increased interest in premium ad environments. Platforms that offer a balance of visibility and genuine user engagement, while respecting the user experience, are poised to gain traction.

The transition from identifiers doesn't signify an end, rather it marks a pivot towards a more privacy-conscious, content-focused, and engaging way of reaching audiences. The advertising industry is set to enter an era where capturing attention and making each moment count is the name of the game.

How can advertisers utilise attention-based activation for both real-time and post-campaign purposes?

In the swiftly evolving landscape of advertising, mastering the art of attention-based activation is an imperative. This process leverages strategic campaign modifications, grounded in the insights derived from user engagement, to enhance advertising effectiveness. Here's how to approach it during live campaigns and for post-campaign evaluation.

Live campaign adjustments depend heavily on real-time analytics of user attention. Employing this data, advertisers discern which campaign facets are successful in commanding user attention and which fall short. For instance, a lack of engagement with specific content or creatives can be rapidly detected, allowing swift pivots — either in the form of content revisions or re-allocation of ad spend towards more captivating elements.

Furthermore, attention metrics can be used to shape bidding strategies within programmatic advertising. High-potential placements, as indicated by historical data and predictive analysis, could warrant more aggressive bidding, thus ensuring that ads are delivered to environments conducive to increased user attention.

Research from Integral Ad Science (IAS) and Neuro-Insight shows that contextually aligned ads results in a 23% lift in memory of a particular ad.

Once a campaign concludes, advertisers can undertake a comprehensive examination of the attention garnered by the campaign. The intention is to investigate and comprehend the factors that contributed to high user attention — be it specific creative forms, messaging, platforms, or timing. The insights gathered from this post-campaign analysis not only aid the optimisation of future campaigns but also deepen the understanding of the audience's behaviour and preferences.

For instance, such an analysis could reveal that a specific creative format persistently commands higher attention, thereby influencing the advertiser's future creative strategy. Similarly, the knowledge that certain times of day or placements yield superior attention rates should shape the advertiser's ad scheduling decisions.

In essence, attention-based advertising activation is a dynamic, ever-evolving process that demands constant monitoring and optimisation. The goal remains the same: to captivate and retain user attention more effectively with each campaign iteration. This strategic approach necessitates adaptability, a nuanced understanding of audience behaviour, and an enduring readiness to learn and evolve.

What are the current challenges preventing attention measurement and activation, and how can these be overcome?

Evaluating and leveraging attention in advertising encounters unique challenges in the digital age. However, we can strategise around these by examining the following areas:

Universal Standards: A globally recognised framework for attention metrics is needed to enable easy comparison across diverse platforms. The advertising industry must collectively work with companies like Adelaide and others who are looking to define standardised metrics and methodologies.

Technological Capabilities: Accurately capturing and interpreting user behaviour necessitates advanced technology. Firms should invest in technological and analytics capabilities, either internally or through strategic partnerships.  

Privacy Considerations: In the era of strict data privacy regulations, measuring attention without infringing on user privacy becomes crucial. A shift towards first-party data and contextual advertising can help maintain this balance.

Awareness and Adoption: Despite the recent advent of attention metrics in the advertising sector, traditional metrics like impressions and clicks still prevail among some marketers. Increasing awareness about the effectiveness of attention metrics can lead to its wider acceptance and adoption.

Attribution Complexity: Linking attention with tangible business outcomes is complicated by the intricate nature of consumer behaviour. Adoption of sophisticated attribution models that account for these complexities can assist in creating a clear link between attention and business results.

Fragmented Attention: Modern consumers spread their attention across various devices and platforms. Cross-platform measurement tools and strategies can assist advertisers in understanding and optimising for this fragmented attention.

As per the IAB, 90% of advertisers have started using attention metrics, suggesting a significant shift in advertising practices. Even though the transformation of the $627bn (~£486bn) advertising market will take time. Advertisers can already benefit by optimising their strategies and embracing attention metrics to drive improved outcomes.