With so much advertising now pushed online and offline, advertising fatigue was inevitable. More and more findings suggest that advertisers should focus on optimizing attention, not viewability, to improve the effectiveness of campaigns. And yet, the advertising industry is still very slow to react to the idea that an ad shown is not an ad perceived. Once we know there is a difference, what are the next steps to understanding — and capitalizing on — what attracts attention?
In this guide, we want to give readers more information on the concept of the ‘attention economy,’ discuss types and dimensions of user attention and give practical optimization tips.
Ready? Scroll down to start reading!
Table of contents
Click on any chapter to scroll directly to it.
What is the attention economy?
Attention economy, the management of user attention in order to exert maximum impact, is not a novel term. For 25 years, the concept behind it has been used to point out the danger of information overload in the age of increased digital presence.
For advertisers, this is a particularly relevant concept.
With the average person seeing a flood of 6,000 – 10,000 ads daily, any brand pushing its content out there is competing for a very limited resource: attention. Users simply do not have the capacity, much less the willingness, to process such a deluge. On the contrary, all this is nudging consumers toward the lowest favorability to advertising.
And yet, the evidence collected in a recent study is incontrovertible: attention is three times better at predicting outcomes than viewability. A collaboration between Trinity McQueen and London School of Economics yielded similar results earlier this year: 72% of the ads analyzed indicated a strong correlation between attention and the final performance metrics.
In fact, attention metrics can bring fairness and transparency to reporting, providing a clearer assessment of ad effectiveness. Companies are increasingly moving their ad effectiveness metrics toward this new standard.
Shades of attention
Attention is not a binary (yes or no) concept. It is not a question of if the user is giving all or none of their attention, nor is it actually necessary to hold 100% of it. In fact, full attention is hardly ever given to advertising. Although, it turns out that is okay: Dentsu’s report findings demonstrate that ads in peripheral vision can also boost sales.
However, the more you can get, the better. If “5% more attention volume leads to a 40% increase in in-market ad awareness,” as this study indicates, then every relevant factor should be optimized to boost ad potential.
Instead of full capture at any cost, advertisers should focus on ad placement, visibility and contextual relevance. For instance, it is easier to draw attention from premium publishers, where users are pulled in to read an article, as opposed to social media platforms, where users often scroll without pausing or engaging.
Contextual advertising is especially qualified to boost not just attention but also engagement, with a consistently low irritation rate and a consistently high positive assessment of ads (72% of users prefer ads targeted in a contextual environment).
Three dimensions of user attention
Not everything can be controlled, but the factors you can control need to be optimized to boost attention potential.
With the appropriate and intentional ad format choice and smart delivery technology, ad formats match the surrounding environment and gain more attention.
Not all ad formats are created equal, and much of the attention quantity depends on the platform and placement. Even on platforms where they are not directly engaged with or are only perceived peripherally, the right format can sustain enough long-lived attention and increase both ad recall and brand awareness.
Strong creative messaging and capitalizing on ad formats is key to more user attention.
Studies show that ad creatives take center stage. Ad design, creative optimization and clear branding moments — including bold logo placement — enhance brand recall and attention.
Environment and context
Selecting contextually aligned ads and emotionally colored context attract more attention.
Mobile or linear TV? Social media? Streaming platform? Online publisher? Context and environment are essential factors in earning user attention. Ads stand out when presented contextually and in the right emotional environment.
The three dimensions identified are crucial. We will now focus on practical recommendations to optimize each of them.
Attention metrics are shaping the future of marketing and advertising. However, it is not only the metrics currently in use that need to be revised and updated but also the advertising formats themselves. As some traditional ad formats are seeing declining attention spans, it is essential to identify the laggards and exploit those advertising formats that perform best in terms of attention quantity.
At MGID, we regularly monitor the performance of our formats, experiment with design and develop new features. The following three advertising formats are definitely the best of the best in our portfolio.
In-Content Impact Widget
When a viewer is reading a certain article, they are, to a large extent, already engaged in the content of the article and surrounding elements. This includes the relevant ad popping up in the article, as it is perceived as the part of the page. Since the viewer is already interacting with content that matches their interest, they can more easily be drawn to the related advertising unit.
In-Content Impact Widget is the perfect solution for advertisers who want their visitors’ user experience to be a positive one, free of irritating advertising. This widget is dedicated to showing only one advertisement at a time, so by design, there is less competition for clicks. It amplifies the brand’s message through more engaging native design and attention-based placement within the on-page content.
The AI-based ad placement technology, which was developed deliberately for this widget, predicts the perfect place within the on-page content to automatically display contextually relevant ads. To enable this solution, we used a sample of more than 100 million page views and upwards of 120 thousand articles from major news sites and analyzed how users engaged with the content and what grabbed their attention the most. Thus, the attention-based auto-placement algorithm inserts the widgets into the “hottest” part of any given piece of content, putting brands front and center for potential leads.
Video Recommendation Player
Numerous sources and studies confirm that video ads receive more attention than static ones. The human brain processes video and motion pictures much faster than any other information. Moreover, video ads are an effective brand discovery tool, ranked #1 in helping consumers discover — and later purchase from — a new brand.
MGID’s Video Recommendation Player is the widget format that gives your viewers 100% engagement and displays potentially attractive advertising content according to their interests. In terms of statistical performance, this particular video ad format can boost your CPM by 30-100%, with the average viewer spending at least 15% more time on your site. Unlike slow and underfilled players in ordinary ads, this solution doesn’t repel visitors and keeps publishers happy.
The next multi-purpose solution attracts user attention due to innovative widget architecture, tracking the viewer’s line of sight and focus and letting them see exactly what you want them to see. Smart Widget improves viewer engagement, along with the impact and effectiveness of advertising.
This format improves user experience and generates over 20% higher CPM compared to classic native advertising. Moreover, it can boost your CTR by up to 40% compared to traditional native placements.
If attention is a scarce commodity, then the attention economy means finding the best allocation of resources to get maximum return. If certain ad creatives and messages offer less attention quality, it is critical to maximize the return on that. To that end, the next essential step in managing attention is understanding the best ways to optimize the potential of each ad format.
Video ads tend to have higher CTR and drive higher sales, with shorter videos leading on performance parameters. However, they are expensive to produce, land in a saturated market and have a high potential to irritate viewers. If not played or watched, the message is lost. For each advertiser, context and resources are critical factors in deciding if video ads are a good option.
Motion ads feature animating gifs and sometimes MOV or MP4 video files. These ads prove to be just as efficient as video ads while being less resource-intensive. It is also a format used most successfully in some verticals to showcase product usage, stimulate appetites (e.g., steaming hot dishes) and more. Within seconds, triggers of usability or desirability can be produced and capitalized on to capture user attention.
In contrast to common misconceptions, static ads have the potential to tell visual stories, capture user attention and emphasize the unique selling points of advertised products — just like videos and gifs. However, images are more of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get delivery system, so stories are conveyed through a user’s imagination, filling in the gaps of what is really going within the static images. Working with images, marketers can play with color or contextual contrast, symbols, metaphors; trigger emotions; and use humor — like popular memes — to get more attention.
Dentsu’s report findings, mentioned before, also show that even partial attention can boost sales and awareness — if the message or branding is clear. Static ads should then rely on high-quality, powerful creatives, delivered with vibrant colors and strong, immediate messaging and brand visibility. Generally, a rule of thumb is that video and motion ads work well to drive brand awareness, whereas static and short animated/gif ads have high potential to drive clicks.
Employing immersive ads that change colors, shrink and expand can encourage consumers to act rather than ignore an ad. Whether it is answering quizzes, submitting a poll or participating in other activities, interactive ads have the biggest potential in the competition for user attention.
Let’s recall the most trendy interactive templates to get maximum user attention:
360 Degree or Panoramic creative
Panoramic photos took the world by storm some 10 years ago, and since then, they have become the subject of hundreds of photo exhibitions and internet memes. 360 degree photos and videos are an entrance to another world where our eyes can see more details. Interactive ads took advantage of this concept and let the users reveal a sneak peek to what's hiding behind the frame. Skilled ad designers hide main characters and focal objects, forcing users to interact with ad units in order to find the missing piece.
Flip Parallax creative
This one awakes the child inside every customer. Remember those exciting table games we spent hours playing in childhood? This urge to discover what's on the other side of the card still exists inside of us. As the most popular approach, designers use them for before and after creatives, short quizzes and image-text creatives. If you are wondering how the users realize there is something hiding on the other side, the answer is simple: such ads are often animated and continue to flip until the customer gets through them.
This unit is a block of several images (typically 4-5) that rotate right and left. It is an innovative way to demonstrate 5 ads to the user. Ideally, this ad design gives viewers the feeling they are at a showcase. We see what's on it, but we want to make sure we have discovered all options and have seen the whole range of products.
Parallax, carousels or 360 panoramic creatives engage customers by capturing and retaining attention. To streamline the creation of these interactive ads for our clients, we recently partnered with Somplo. With this service, you can create immersive experiences with vibrant changing colors and sizes along with many other dynamic elements that encourage consumers to act rather than ignore.
Contextual relevance and environment
Viewer responses vary greatly, and formats and content are perceived differently depending on whether the ad is viewed on mobile vs. desktop. A BI Intelligence study found that the CTR for premium native ads was highest on smartphones at 0.38%, compared to 0.16% for desktop native ads.
So far — and there is no way around this — you need to optimize for devices. When targeting mobile traffic, cut down unnecessary text information and make copies bite-sized. Simplify ad creatives for tiny screens and don’t be afraid to have some fun with mobile users. In contrast to desktop users, their attention is divided across many subjects and tabs, so being concise and entertaining is your best bet.
How do you choose contextual categories for targeting? The most obvious approach is to put advertisements in the most relevant context. It turns out that in most cases, contextually aligned ads perform better on average.
Contextual ads are +32% more likely to convert compared to ads based on demographic or behavioral targeting. Consumers targeted contextually vs demographically are less irritated, more interested or excited, and ultimately, +60% more likely to click on the ad.
Even though this strategy performs better on average, we recommend testing different contexts for your campaigns. Then, you can compare the performance of different context categories and optimize targeting.
Contextual targeting may encourage scrolling, but not all emotional sentiments encourage buying. Research from Pinterest shows that negative sentiment makes people “less likely to remember, less likely to trust and less likely to purchase from brands,” while positive sentiment correlates with positive returns.
A study run by MGID also shows a 23% higher eCPM for negative sentiment compared to positive and a 40% higher eCTR for positive sentiment. Conversions were 2.3x higher for positive sentiment.
Neutral sentiment is the middle ground between positive and negative in terms of eCTR and conversions, but at the same time, it has a much lower eCPM, which makes it attractive for targeting.
In other words, positive context pays off: for most categories, ads shown on pages with positive sentiment perform better than those shown on pages with negative sentiment. On the other hand, neutral sentiment performs better than negative and worse than positive but has lower eCPM rates.
Attention was always crucial for advertising and media, and now, a new way to measure ad effectiveness. It is the logical step to update how our industry measures, plans and trades media in the digital economy.
To some degree, the current practice of rolling numbers under various acronyms (CPM, eCPM, eCTR, etc.) is trailing behind years of research. The real challenge is for advertisers to efficiently direct attention to their content by leveraging the three dimensions mentioned above. No more shooting in the dark, based on obsolete metrics; an integrated approach that bundles attention into the equation should be the new norm.
In the attention economy, qualitative and quantitative data tell a similar story: a contextual fit makes a tremendous difference. Targeting your audience with contextual advertising is a smart tactic for which its effectiveness can be enhanced with smart delivery technologies, from widget architecture to auto-placement algorithms. Beyond these, however, the evergreen contributing factors of quality creatives, clear branding, messaging and eye-catching visuals remain critical.