What is attention time? And why is it so important for your mobile ad campaigns?

It’s never been harder to get eyes (and attention) on your mobile ads. Find out what ‘attention time’ is, and why every mobile advertiser needs to start using it. 

We live an era where we are bombarded with more ads and content than ever – and in which our attention spans are apparently shorter than ever. According to a recent study by Microsoft, our attention span has now dropped to eight seconds – shrinking almost 25% in just a few years. 

And a Facebook study that discovered that 94% of us keep our phone in our hand while watching TV, shows that we’re also increasingly competing with multiple sources for users’ attention, even when they are, in theory, ‘viewing’ a screen. 

So if you’re an advertiser running mobile ads, how can you ensure that YOUR ads attract the attention of the right people? And, just as importantly, how can you accurately measure the effectiveness of your campaigns? 

We believe the future of mobile ad campaign measurement lies in attention time. 

What is attention time?

When brands invest in paid digital advertising, they aren’t just bidding for the digital real estate – they are competing for the attention of their ideal customers. And the biggest challenge for advertisers is to effectively measure this attention. 

Traditionally, this has been measured using a metric of ‘viewability’. The Media Ratings Council (MRC) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) agree the current industry standard for viewability. This states that at least 50% of an ad’s pixels must be in view for at least one continuous second. And for video, 50% of a player must be in view for at least two continuous seconds. 

But there’s a big problem with this metric, and that is our viewing behaviour. Because many of us have become used to switching between content (for example, scrolling your phone while watching TV). So just because an ad may be technically viewable on a screen does not mean that someone has actually seen it. 

A far better metric of an ad’s true performance is attention time. This measures not just how long an ad is theoretically in view, but how much attention a user is actually paying to it. 

Why is attention time a better measure of performance?

Kantar, the world’s leading data, insights and consulting company, conducted research to investigate the success of attention time as a performance measurement metric. 

They learned that campaigns that captured attention time achieved an average of 25% greater awareness. And the more attention time an ad gained, the more awareness it achieved. Campaigns that achieved attention time also achieved an average 79% increase in recall.

They concluded that, compared to viewability, attention time is more than seven times more predictive for driving awareness, and almost six times more powerful for recall. 

How can we measure attention time?

But if attention time is so important, and so much more effective than viewability, how can we accurately measure it? 

Unfortunately, as we’ve already covered, the traditional metrics on which marketers make advertising decisions don’t give a full enough picture to measure attention time. 

We know that users multitask while on their phones. We also know the speed at which they scroll through feeds, including ads. This means there’s a gaping hole between traditional viewability and your ads actually being seen. 

This leaves advertisers with a big problem: how can you truly and ethically understand how users are interacting with your ads, and whether they are actually seeing (and noticing) them, or whether they are simply scrolling past, or leaving them open on their screen while they’re focused on something else?

Why eye tracking technology isn’t a sufficient solution

In an effort to solve this problem, some advertisers have started using eye tracking technology to help them measure attention time. However, this raises privacy issues, because in order to measure eye tracking you need to access a phone’s camera and capture images of the user’s face. 

Eye tracking technology has long raised privacy concerns. According to Vice, this “represents a serious privacy concern”. They continue: “Your eye’s movements are largely involuntary and unconscious. If a company is collecting the data, you won’t know.”

Given the privacy issues, there is nothing to stop regulators cracking down on the use of this technology in the future. So we don’t believe it’s wise to build your measurement tools around eye tracking. 

The five metrics we use to measure true attention time

So what’s the solution? How can you measure attention time without using eye tracking technology? 

In our experience there isn’t one, simple metric you can adequately rely on. Instead, we’ve developed a unique, holistic way to measure attention time. 

Our solution is comprised of five different metrics that give us a more complete idea of creative performance:

  1. Viewability: Is this ad in view? This event is triggered the first time an ad unit is considered viewable.
  2. Time in view: How long is an ad in view? (The total time in milliseconds that the ad unit was in view for; the event’s value field will contain this.)
  3. Dwell time: How long did a user spend on the web-page? (The total time the user had the page/window/tab in focus.)
  4. Interaction events: Did the user engage beyond an accidental click? This event is fired any time a behaviour assigned to a widget is triggered. This may be clicks, scrolls within the creative. 
  5. Interaction rate percentage: Behavioural events/by impressions. 

When we optimise campaigns, we do so towards these five metrics. From experience, we’ve learned that high viewability doesn’t necessarily mean high interaction rate. So we keep an eye on all of these metrics.

Interaction events may be a higher indicator of performance of attention. So we record on the report and optimise according to best performing creative and best performing inventory.

And in addition to measuring the above metrics, we also like to include a brand study to measure recall, awareness and consideration/creative performance if possible.

(We also make sure that your ads are even able to effectively capture attention time – click here to find out how.)

It’s time to start measuring true attention – not just viewability

Attention time is a metric we’ve overlooked up until recently in digital media. However, it seems obvious that this may just be one of the most important metrics to ensure clients achieve better results. Because without attention, brands can’t drive performance – no matter what KPI they are measuring against. 

That’s why we believe that the monitoring, optimisation and measurement of attention should be the first step to improve results for your brand. Whether that’s for awareness, consideration, recall or sales.  

Want to know more about how we don’t just ensure your ads get seen, but track genuine attention time? Get in touch and we’d be delighted to speak with you.