Human attention, as a measure of effectiveness, is fast becoming a unit of trade. Media effectiveness research continues to find imbalance that disadvantages advertisers. But change is coming and it is good. We are moving from conversations at Cannes to action and applicability. Currencies are starting to form, the nature of measurement is becoming more advanced and capital investment is starting to flow. The study of attention is a growing field.

The WARC Guide to Planning for Attention covers the value, measurement, application and ethics of attention. I invited industry experts to discuss these four key structural factors affecting an industry on the precipice of change. Their appetite for change becomes clear as you read through papers from heavy hitters including MARS, GSK, IPSOS, Spotify, Dentsu, Attention Capital and more. These thought leaders show a collective passion to bring balance, fairness and transparency to media trading. The attention economy is here.

The value of attention

As guest editor, it was important to start with defining the incremental value of visual attention, because without showing a link to incremental value, what does attention measurement offer that is different? If we are asking advertisers to move towards an attention economy and away from traditional buying measures, we owe it to them to define its value. And its value is wide ranging.

Our research at Amplified Intelligence has found a relationship between visual attention and incremental brand choice (STAS). This is extraordinarily important given advertising is not persuasive and advertising effects are generally small. Having simple data, independent of platform owners, that tracks human viewing and can call out platform (and creative) deficiencies, is highly valuable.

How attention can be, and is being, integrated as a supplementary layer to our existing measurement systems.

Audience measurement needs an overhaul, says Global Head of Business Development, at Ipsos, Andrew Green. Every advertiser wants the audiences they are buying to see, hear and ideally engage with their messages, but barriers to change are mainly political. Audience measurement stakeholders don’t like uncertainty and media owners don’t like to be made responsible for the variable impact of different creative executions.

Jonathan Waite, Senior Director, Global Media Partnership for Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) talks about the need to move away from measuring a ‘probability’ of being seen to a much more quantifiable certainty. Which is why DAN embarked upon the ambitious ‘The Attention Economy’ programme, to help redress media ecosystem complacency and redefine what true value looks like.

It’s difficult for a market to operate effectively when buyers can’t differentiate between high and low quality goods, and Marc Guldimann CEO and Founder of Adelaide, suggests that inconsistent and concealed volume and quality of metrics are also a problem. Attention metrics provide a more nuanced way to assess quality beyond arbitrary viewability and bring transparency to a failing market.

How brands (and publishers) are using attention to improve ROI

Mars, Incorporated has a strong history of pursuing robust consumer insights, which Sorin Patilinet, Global CMI Director – Communications Lab, says can only improve the value exchange with their consumers. Measuring Attention is a key element in helping Mars improve its creative hit rate. He suggests you would be surprised at just how little attention some ads generate.

Grocery retailer Co-op worked with the Dentsu Aegis Network to optimise for attention. Caroline Beesley, Head of Digital Marketing for Co-op, talks about how small brands need to fight harder against the regular patterns of buyer behaviour. With smaller budgets they need ads to punch well above their weight for a chance to compete. Incorporating visual attention into a programmatic buy can improve ROI and give small brands an edge over larger competitors who naturally benchmark higher due to laws of brand growth. 

Then there is sound. Spotify’s Global Holding Company Lead, Cari Kesten, suggests that the ubiquitous nature of audio offers more moments for marketers to connect with their audience. One of the enemies of attention is clutter and audio offers a way to build environments away from visual clutter.

An ethical consideration of fairness and the betterment of our ecosystem

Perhaps one of the most important conversations is about ethics. Jerry Daykin, Senior Media Director, EMEA, at GSK Consumer Healthcare Marketing talks about his time at Diageo and how they embraced their responsibility to invest in and shape the internet they want consumers to experience. A focus on higher quality inventory was able to deliver better brand and business results.

Robert Wegenek, formerly of law firm Squire Patton Boggs, and now founder of The Quarterback, suggests it’s time to move measurement to the eye of the beholder. Without being subject to the same advertiser and auditor security as traditional media, digital measurement was always destined to become problematic.

To begin to correct this broken advertising ecosystem the incentive structure must change. Joe Marchese, CEO of Attention Capital, discusses how the exposure of consumers to degraded content as a normal part of their daily media viewing, devalues brands by diminishing the attention of consumers. We need to better measure quality attention and hold companies accountable for using standards that fairly and equitably value attention.

When an ecosystem stops functioning, disruption becomes less of a choice and more of a necessity. There is now no doubt that Attention has the potential to bring transparency and fairness to the media ecosystem.

This guide continues an important conversation and offers a comprehensive guide to the value that Attention can offer.