Attention measurement is growing its profile in advertising as the techniques and ideas that inform it gain mainstream popularity, but success isn’t a simple fix - Publicis’ Phil Sumner explores three ways to make the most of attention.

“The first duty of an advertisement is to be seen. Unless it can get attention, its other qualities count for nothing. Hence the study of attention devices is of vital importance.”

That sentence could have been written by someone in our industry just last week; but it appeared in ‘The principles of advertising’ which was first published in 1920. Thus, the subject of attention in advertising isn’t a new one; it’s a fundamental component to the success of advertising, and always will be.

The buzz we see around attention measurement today has been sustained – in part – because of the ability to conduct more rapid and robust research linking the role of attention to outcomes. 

Put simply, it’s easier to do this work now than it was In the recent past.

The additional effort and investment needed to adopt attention measurement/thinking can be justified because, time and time again, we see evidence from client-specific work and larger pieces of industry work that attention thinking helps plot a better path towards desired outcomes.

This work is helping to create momentum and drive investment in attention measurement, moving the sector to maturity. 

But the rush to adopt attention measurement across the industry is a source of concern, too. Partly because of a lack of clarity around what attention is, and how it should be measured. But also because of the tendency to look at attention through the lens of media only, and neglect its relationship with creativity. 

These issues aside, there is the problem of ‘shiny toy syndrome’, where attention is treated by the industry as yet another panacea that will solve all of our problems. Consequently, we become blinkered and start to neglect other important measures and approaches.

To overcome these challenges we need to be clear on three things. The first of those is how we define attention measurement. Second, we need to bring creative measurement back to the forefront. Finally, we need to situate attention within a broader context of other measures and objectives that help drive business outcomes for brands. 

How Publicis defines attention

Today at Publicis, we are beginning to settle on three clear sub-classes of attention measures:

  • Biometrics; those captured directly from sources such as eye tracking, facial coding and GSR. 
  • Biometrically-informed proxies; generally defined as scoring models, informed by some element of biometrics. 
  • Non-biometric proxies; those which arise from technical interaction and screen/browser geometry. 

All three of these sub-classes have validity. Biometrics provide the most accurate take on how consumers actually interact with an ad, down to the sub-components. But they’re also the most expensive and comparatively slow to be delivered. Biometrically-informed and non-biometric proxies may lack the purity of biometrics, but can scale far quicker and are proving effective. 

In reality, all brands wanting to properly incorporate attention thinking will need to work with all three measures for a well-rounded attention measurement strategy. More broadly, defining methodologies in this way will help advertisers better understand what they’re buying and help the attention space gain credibility faster. 

Bringing creative measurement back to the forefront

As an industry, we need to think more holistically about how we apply attention metrics to advertising. In the last few years, most developments and applications of attention measurement have focused on measuring media. It is right that the focus has been here; as it’s far easier to scale, thus allowing a wider range of advertisers to benefit sooner. 

But we cannot neglect the role of creativity, how creative and media work together and the impact of simple optimizations.

Creative attention measurement can manifest in many different ways, and at different points in the creative process. Heavy weight biometric research (e.g. specifically recruited panels leveraging methods such as eye tracking or facial coding), early on in the creative process, can help ensure creatives are well-primed to drive both attention and emotional responses. But the added time and cost this adds, means such heavy weight approaches may only be beneficial for campaigns with larger investment levels.

But creative attention measurement can also manifest as a much simpler, less expensive, hygiene check nearer the point of flighting. This can simply mean ensuring creatives are fit-for-purpose to the channel in which they’re running. For example, if the average attentive time in-view of an ad unit on a social feed is <2 seconds, the creative which runs should show the brand within this window otherwise, many precious opportunities to expose consumers to a brand are needlessly wasted. 

Thus understanding the context of the creative flow within the media channel and applying simple optimizations (such as revealing the brand earlier or throughout), is an important consideration.

Such approaches are relatively blunt, raising-the-floor exercises, but ones that can be adopted by almost all brands undertaking brand advertising today. It helps to increase the odds that a consumer’s gaze may be across a creative at the point where the brand assets are displayed, improving outcomes such as brand recall, association and intent. 

Creative measurement is still innately more complex and brand specific (e.g. the attention needed to move the needle will change based on the advertised brands’ salience so this also needs to be considered when selecting channels), but we now need to refocus on creative because of its critical role in driving outcomes and advertisers looking to reap attention’s full promise, need to swim in both the media and creative lanes.

Seeing the big picture beyond attention

When attention is overlaid on traditional reach-curve-based planning, it can already move us to an interesting new area of channel selection. But at Publicis we believe that factors such as relevance and persistence at a channel level should also be factored into calibrations to form a much more rounded picture of the relative power between each channel. 

We refer to this new approach as ‘Right Reach’; essentially a more sophisticated approach to cross-channel planning accessible to all advertisers without any significant set-up; democratizing attention-based planning.

Although Right Reach is just the entry point, leveraging the existing touchpoint and market level data that’s available. As advertisers advance on their attention journey, we fuse the concepts of Right Reach with dynamic forecasting tools based on sales outcomes data (e.g. MMM response curves). This directly links back to the outcome potential; now enriched via attention and more predictive than before.

As with the planning phase, we often see attention metrics being viewed in isolation versus a wider set of inflight/post campaign measures. Specifically at Publicis, we have paid significant attention to the rapid rise in new Brand Integrity metrics such as those measuring climate impact (carbon), mis-information, DE&I and representation, as well as Data Privacy. We’re constantly advocating for brands and marketers to look across these purpose driven metrics that are becoming critical to consumer purchase decisions and should be no less important in media planning and decisions. 

Since 2022, at Publicis we began incorporating these Brand Integrity metrics alongside attention metrics, so brands have the ability to understand a wider context across metrics, and implications of optimizations at the most granular impression level.

At Publicis, this measurement framework is incorporated into our proprietary offerings to brands and marketers. 

Beyond the holistic reporting of the interaction of brand integrity and performance metrics, like attention, Publicis is also leading in our ability to utilize ML/AI driven solutions for optimizing campaign delivery algorithmically. We believe that attention is just one factor in a wider set, and attention’s importance will differ by advertiser and by campaign.

Publicis AI allows advertisers to utilize third-party data sets and customize brands’ prioritization of attention versus other brand Integrity signals within a bidding waterfall. 

It’s clear that attention helps brands drive improved outcomes, and our work enables clients to do that without any unconscious bias or sacrificing brand integrity metrics. Outcomes with integrity allows full flexibility; not being tied to a rigid model of success to legacy metrics such as viewability or click through rates. The ideal approach is bottom up, working back from the advertiser’s own specific growth objective, and allowing for attention to take center stage when appropriate, alongside an ensemble of brand Integrity metrics and considerations to support a future-facing model.

The role of the agency is to advise and provide a transparent environment whereby advertisers can easily facilitate test/learn/iterate programs and understand the relative importance of attention in the short and long terms for their own brands, across both media and creative measures.

A simple one-size-fits-all attention story is an easy story to tell but misses the nuances of attention at a brand level, and misses the simple fact that attention is just one driver in a wider soup of KPIs and priorities that drive business outcomes for brands.