Amid the rapid expansion of platforms and formats in the region, questions surround the believability and effectiveness of digital ads, WARC Asia Editor Rica Facundo speaks to Dentsu’s Arindam Bhattacharyya and Abbas Ehetesham about the importance of attention data in Asia.

WARC: Paint a picture of the digital ecosystem in Indonesia. What are the significant changes in the last year that will influence the marketing landscape in the next year?

Arindam Bhattacharyya: We are approximately around 213 million internet users in Indonesia. The notion of rapid digitalisation was always tied to Tier 1 cities in Indonesia but now we’re seeing Tier 2 and 3 cities rapidly picking it up. There are various factors driving this growth, such as the rise of short-form videos, creative economy and social commerce.

It’s important to note that there was already momentum because of growing digital adoption via internet devices, improving bandwidth. However, after COVID is when the whole ecosystem converged and boosted development. Now we see digital payments accelerating and shaping social commerce and the entire consumer journey.

How do you see this backdrop influence the way marketers reach Indonesian (and Southeast Asian) consumers and capture their attention?

Arindam: Apart from this whole rapid expansion and explosion of platforms, there are now multiple formats, even on the display other than video. This is happening at a time when there is also conversation about the believability and effectiveness of digital ads. Advertisers feel there is a rapid surge in growth but now it’s about analysing whether it’s working as effectively as it should. Is my ad really reaching the intended audience?

If marketers now have the choice between 15-plus formats, it’s a struggle for the media and even the creative agency. What we often ignore is that even if the ad is getting played, did it capture the right attention? And did my consumer comprehend what I’m wanting to say?

What is the state of the attention economy in Southeast Asia?

Markets like the UK and Australia are more advanced in the shift towards attention. On the other hand, in Asia, the idea of “attention” has always been a very philosophical and conceptual narrative. Now it’s really time we put attention in practice so that we can drive more adoption and client buy-in. That’s why we did the ‘Solving the Attention Conundrum’ study.

It’s important to have this kind of attention data for our region. It’s a good time for Southeast Asia to take this narrative and have that practicality in motion.

While attending Cannes, I gained insights into the attention economy and reviewed the research findings, I shared this information with our clients after it was published on the WARC portal. Even though they found it interesting, they would push back and say it’s too hard to do it in Indonesia. So we started engaging with some attention providers. That’s why I owe a lot of things to Abbas for bringing this study together. Not many digital practitioners in our region really understand attention metrics. Even though they know it’s important to improve effectiveness, they don’t know how to land it. There’s a lot of noise in the market but if you really drill down and ask a little bit of details, there’s a lot of confusion.

We were able to pick two brands for piloting. It wasn’t a very big sample size but we ensured that the representative formats that we use in this region were there.

Why should Asian marketers be investing in attention data now?

Abbas Ehetesham: As we mentioned earlier, there are so many formats available now. And now there are many studies coming out that talk about ad wastage and how there are many ads that get unnoticed by the human eye.

So as a market, we need to evolve our basic metrics and KPIs so that we can understand how to better optimise the spend. If you look at the publishers in Indonesia compared to other markets, it is very cluttered. There are so many ads popping up from everywhere. Sometimes it’s a sticky banner, sometimes it’s a masthead. This makes it very important to understand whether users are seeing those ads or not. That’s the main challenge we have in this market.

This is where attention plays an important role. Yes, those formats are viewable. They are there on the screen. They have the opportunities to be seen. But does the user actually see those ads through the human eye? So that’s where the challenge is.

Let’s go into the findings. What was surprising about the results? What are the nuances of high-growth digital markets like Indonesia and Southeast Asia that you want to point out?

Abbas: Based on the results, I strongly believe that marketers should stop using standard display banners. We ran the test on both the programmatic display and two programmatic videos, which were both measured for viewability and attention.

The video results were great with 83% viewability and 74% attention rates. But the display results painted a different picture. The viewability rate was good at 76% but the attention view rate is only 32%.

So this confirms our hypothesis that the standard display ads rarely get noticed. Often, publishers will push all sorts of sticky banners which are formats that are barely getting noticed.

Arindam: This is an important finding because the whole publisher market was very display-dominated. If you pick up any sample media plan, you will most likely see a minimum of 15-plus dimensions within the display. That’s not accounting for contextual dynamic creative optimisation. So now there’s this multiplicity of dimensions happening.

But how much of that is getting unnoticed? It is also about what message is coming at the right time. That’s why human eye metrics are important. Even if players such as Google, Meta, etc. are showing that you can get a BLS lift using video. There needs to be a merit from another third party asking that even if you do video, what part is getting attention.

What did you learn about how to pitch the idea of attention studies to the client?

Arindam: We led with the consumer challenge, specifically the youth. We pitched the idea that attention is reducing by every generation, so why not test it out? We were working with a brand where their source of growth is Gen Z. Now another brand wants to understand how this works for premium moms who consume thousands of formats.

The second challenge and hook is fragmentation, which is more of a publisher marketplace challenge. What format is the most effective way to capture the attention of our audience?

The study is a convergence of both challenges. The attention span of Gen Z is so low. They are exposed to so many formats of brand communication and also some local publishers, everybody trying to serve them in a various way. So it became a question of how I can really decode it in a proper way that it is not getting my impressions not going unnoticed.

Abbas: Aside from the consumer perspective, another selling point was about how to get better performance outcomes. We were educating clients that viewability does not equal the ad being seen by a human eye. And how if you optimise towards greater attention, you will automatically see incremental performance in your campaigns.