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Clicks seem like a clunky way to gauge the effectiveness of digital ads. Can eye tracking do better by measuring what people notice, not just what they do? Visitors to the MAD//Fest conference pondered the question. Tim Green observed…

Every marketer knows we are living in the attention economy. In an online world dominated by ad-funded models, the service that receives the most attention wins. Simple as that.

After 20 years of the digital economy, we are now starting to see the unintentional consequences of this model – fake news, echo chambers and so on.

But for the digital marketing industry, the key challenge is more prosaic. How do you measure attention in the first place?

At present the dominant metric is clicks. But impressions are blunt to say the least. If the average person sees more than 4,000 advertising messages a day across multiple devices and channels, are clicks really the best way to measure what works and what doesn’t?

Clearly not. This is why digital marketers are now searching for a better way to define and value attention.

At the Mad//Fest event in London in November, they debated one of the top candidates: eye tracking.

If 50 per cent of people notice a viewable ad for one second, then you get 500 seconds of attention for every 1000 viewable impressions that you buy.. Getting noticed is important, but dwell time with the ad is also vital.”

Mike Follett, MD of Lumina, led the conversation. From the stage, he spoke about the potential of the technology. Lumina has developed eye tracking software that can be embedded in digital ads. Brands can use it to test and optimise their digital ads.

However, it’s important to remember that tracking eye movements completely changes what ‘effectiveness’ is. In short, it uses ‘attention seconds’.

Here is how Follett described the concept in a blog earlier this year.

He said: “Attention seconds are a combination of two factors: did anyone see the ad at all, and how long did they look at it for?

“If 50 per cent of people notice a viewable ad for one second, then you get 500 seconds of attention for every 1000 viewable impressions that you buy. 30 per cent noticing an ad for two seconds will get you 600 seconds from every 1000 viewable impressions and so on.

“Getting noticed is important, but dwell time with the ad is also vital.”

Obviously, clicks can only reveal what a tiny subset of the audience does. By contrast, eye tracking surveys the actions of every viewer.

In this context, mobile performs outstandingly well. In fact, according to Lumina, mobile ads score roughly three and a half times higher than desktop ads. People simply notice mobile campaigns more (not surprising when ads frequently fill the screen).

On the other hand, they engage with them less. For this reason, Follett recommends that marketers design mobile ads that function more like posters than mini TV campaigns.

While eye tracking holds promise for marketers, it also brings many dangers.

Privacy is the obvious one. There’s something creepy and intrusive about the idea. It’s worth noting that Facebook has strenuously denied building eye-tracking software even though it holds patents relating to the tech.

This might explain why a group of insiders recently launched the The Attention Council. It exists to explore how digital advertising can move on from quantity of audience to ‘the quality of the environment in which audiences view advertising’.

It wants to look at the creation of an attention-based currency for media buying. And also deflect some of the privacy concerns around new tech such as eye tracking..

There’s only one way to conclude this article.

We’ll see.

Tim Green

Features Editor, MEF Minute

  

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