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The art of seeking (and keeping) your audience’s attention

In the modern era, the digital advertising space can seem like a convoluted, confusing place for brands and retailers to operate in. With endless possibilities to engage consumers via numerous methods and channels, it’s no wonder it can be difficult to know where to start your advertising and marketing activities – and which will prove successful.  

However, recent innovations and advances in technology suggest that contextual advertising, combined with engaging creatives and an exciting measurement metric called ‘attention’ will give you the best chance of targeting your audience effectively and efficiently. Here’s a modern marketers guide to catching the consumer’s attention in a media saturated world. 

Peter Wallace, General Manager, EMEA, GumGum offers five tips for brands and retailers to succeed in the attention economy. 

Numerous twists and turns have brought digital advertising to this point, and we can quickly summarise them:

  • Third party cookies and audience identifiers are on increasingly shaky ground
  • Trust in technology companies is dwindling
  • Privacy regulation is rising
  • Ad fatigue and ad blindness are real
  • Consumers’ attention is a scarce and precious resource, creating an ‘attention economy’

In theory, today’s digital technology offers us numerous opportunities to grab attention. But in an over-saturated media world, cutting through requires the ability to understand and act upon a consumer’s mindset at any given moment.

We think the understanding of context, creative and attention – and how they interact – offers brands the best chance of doing that, and of grabbing their attention for long enough to move the dial for that brand. This is how it works:

1)    Move past the old methods

Targeting ads on the basis of consumers’ past behaviour has been discredited for its stalkerish, privacy-violating qualities. Behavioural targeting also faces a cliff edge in 2024, when Google will fully phase out third party cookie tracking on Chrome.

But regardless of the 2024 Chrome deadline, behavioural data has always been a poor guide to a consumer’s current mindset. Knowing what a person looked at last week or even yesterday, doesn’t tell you what their mindset is right now. It is through understanding the consumer’s mood and frame of mind right this minute that we can work towards creating an ad experience that will grab their attention and keep it. This is what contextual targeting is all about: using technology to scan for triggers (such as imagery, audio and even video on a webpage) to understand a user’s mindset based on the content they’re engaging with and use that information to serve them an appropriate ad. 

There is a growing body of research which proves the effectiveness and efficiency of contextual targeting over behavioural ads. A study by GumGum found contextual targeting has a 48% lower CPC than behavioural targeting. Another study found contextual targeting resulted in a ROAS of $2.79 and a sales lift of 3.40%.

2)    Campaign design – creative is the magic ingredient

According to the Chicago School of Psychology, people on average are exposed to over 6,000 ads a day – meaning that getting an ad in front of a person is only half the battle. Context gets you through the door, but it doesn’t seal the deal – well designed creative does.

Data from Nielsen confirms that creative makes up 47% of an ad’s success, and the winners are those that nail the messaging, the visual, the placement and the experience. High impact ads are important – we already know that consumers are largely impervious to standard digital inventory.

The creative also needs to be striking and beautiful, emotional, methodical, amusing and unique. Rich media assets such as the Animation on Scroll unit used in this ad campaign for KFC are highly effective at engaging an audience and provide a canvas for pushing the creative and emotional boundaries of digital advertising.

3)    Adopt a contextual 2.0 approach

Contextual targeting enables a brand to find audiences when they are in the right mindset for its message. It means putting the right ad in the right place, at the right time, close to a relevant topic, in order to increase ad relevance. According to GumGum’s own neuro-analytical study, contextual ads increase brand recall by 70%; they are 2.2x more memorable; and they are 10% more engaging than article content.

But not all contextual solutions are equal. Many only analyse text-based content signals. In order to truly understand a digital environment, deeper analysis of the content signals is required: words, images, video, audio and other available metadata. New AI models for Natural Language Processing and Computer Vision can read these signals, create a nuanced picture of the environment as a whole and deliver engaging and relevant ads in real time.

This more advanced approach to contextual targeting is not just providing a way to reach audiences with the right mindset within established digital channels like desktop and mobile, it is also opening up emerging areas like CTV and gaming, where cookie-based or behavioural targeting isn’t possible.

4)    Understand that every engagement has a different mindset

Digital platforms are proliferating. Plenty of studies – and of course the evidence of our own lives – testify to the fast-rising number of connected devices in the average home: laptops, smart TVs, smartphones, smart watches, Alexas, games consoles, Oculus headsets, Pelotons – the list goes on.

This is what a multi-screen world looks like, and it is not a straightforward landscape for advertisers when it comes to deploying appropriate ad formats that perfectly fit the channel. As users, our attention is pulled from one platform to another, and the type of attention we pay to any given screen is invariably very different – from watching a box set, to exploring an imaginary world through a headset, to taking a spin class, to scrolling on a phone while the kettle boils. Advertisers need to be aware of this, and combine creative and ad formats that play to the strengths of each platform (and its content), to maximise attention and user engagement. For example, a pre-roll video ad that pauses the content isn’t going to be appropriate for a live streaming CTV environment. In fact, it’s going to be very annoying for the user and that could damage their perception of the brand. So, advertisers need to consider other formats that are less disruptive and more integrated, like overlay ads, which are relevant to the content and don’t stop or pause the video. If the creative is both genuinely captivating and seamlessly fits the digital platform or channel, then you have a winning combination.

5)    Measure attention for the proof you’ve got it right

At GumGum, we have a term for the interplay of context, creative and attention: the Mindset Matrix. And while contextual targeting and creative have both been around, in less sophisticated forms, since the dawn of advertising, our ability now to measure the level of attention an ad garners is very new and extremely significant.

Attention Time is about measuring the time a user actually looks at an ad, and it is the metric that lets you know your context and your creative are hitting the sweet spot. When it comes to attention on ads, we know for certain that more is more. Each extra second someone looks at an ad, brand awareness can rise by as much as 11%, and brand recall up to 7%. And, amid fierce competition for scarce consumer attention, earning these extra seconds is more critical than ever.

Incidentally, Attention Time should not be confused with viewability, which only measures the presence of an ad on a screen, not the time anyone spent looking at it. And compared to viewability, Attention Time is 7.5 times more important in driving awareness and 5.9 times more important for recall.

In summary…

Much of what has been missing from digital advertising in recent years is a sense of the importance of the consumer’s experience. So the overarching message to brands is to re-focus on that, and appreciate that consumer attention has become a valuable commodity. If you want to share in it, you will need to earn it, and that calls for smarter, more creative and contextual ways of marketing. If they can do that, marketers now have an opportunity to negotiate a new value exchange: better advertising for the consumer in return for better outcomes for their brand.

By Peter Wallace, General Manager, EMEA, GumGum

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