Context And Creativity: The New Power Tools Of An Attention Economy

digital pad surrounded by tools

Peter Wallace, managing director EMEA of GumGum, explains how contextual intelligence and creative thinking are paving the way in a bold new age of attention metrics.

Picture this: you’re new in town, and choosing a pub to pass the hours in. One place has half-price drinks and the bar is heaving. You can’t hear yourself think, and it takes half an hour just to elbow your way through the throng and get a pint. The other venue is more relaxed and friendly. It has your favourite IPA on tap and the bar staff has time not only to serve you but also chat a little, and recommend a great restaurant nearby. It’s a no-brainer which one you’d go for.

This scenario is a handy metaphor for how digital content is surfaced in an increasingly noisy sphere. Much like the crowded bar, audiences don’t want to wade their way through a quagmire of banner adverts to access the stories they like. This is especially true if the messaging in question has no relevance to their daily lives or interests.

They’d much rather have the meaningful interaction of that cosy pub: with ad experiences that chime with the content they’re consuming; and campaigns that don’t overwhelm but instead get the balance just right.

The rise of the attention economy

Players across the digital ecosystem have become increasingly aware of this sweet spot, driving a growing interest in attention-based metrics. In today’s multi-channel ad world, ad measurements based on clicks alone are fast becoming redundant. In some emerging ad verticals, e.g. the smart home or OOH advertising, engagement simply cannot be captured by clicks. Even where it can, it’s not a reliable gauge: research shows digital ad effectiveness is often wildly overestimated, with up to 60% of mobile banner ad clicks made by accident.

It’s exactly this fallibility that has prompted IAB UK to launch its National Anti-Click Through Rate Day, urging advertisers and publishers not to be #clickheads by over-emphasising the value of CTR. This kickback has shaped a new wave of attention metrics – designed to understand how much actual attention has been placed on a particular ad unit.

Various businesses have cropped up with different solutions and methodologies here but the underpinning principle is the same. We, as an industry, need a deeper, more authentic understanding of how audiences respond to digital ads, for greater brand resonance.

Contextual as an attention catalyst 

The debate around attention metrics coincides with another major shift in digital advertising: the death of the cookie. With third-party targeting fast being phased out, marketers are looking for new, privacy-friendly ways to get brand messages in the right places. Similarly, publishers are in urgent need of avenues to monetize their content without compromising personal data.

Contextual targeting offers a viable alternative here, using technology to match ads with users based not on behaviour, but instead content context at any moment in time. Not only is this approach watertight when it comes to a new age of global privacy legislation, but it also conveniently dovetails with the groundswell of interest in attention.

Creativity also has a vital role to play. According to recent research carried out by GumGum in partnership with Publicis Groupe, GumGum’s rich media formats drive on average 22x more attention compared to standard IAB formats.

These striking results were generated by attention-based market research company Lumen Research, which measured participants’ eye movements while reading web pages containing standard ad units versus rich media formats. Respondents were then asked about brand awareness, brand perception, and spontaneous and prompted recall.

The same formats were also tested in contextually relevant and non-contextually relevant environments. Again, a clear variable came to light, as contextual targeting drove a 41% increase in spontaneous recall and a 69% increase in prompted recall among exposed participants.

New questions for a new age

The takeaway here is that creativity and contextual targeting can be superpowers of an attention age. Consumers welcome the effort that comes with high-impact ad formats: the ability of brand messaging to stand out from the crowd without being a nuisance by falling back on the same overused, generic techniques.

In the same breath, they also respond more positively to meaningful messaging: i.e. ads that are compatible with the content they are consuming at any one point. This is incisive placement; it adapts to its setting and respects user privacy.

Attention, then, is the golden mantle we should all be attuned to at a time when digital consumers are routinely overserved and showing signs of content fatigue. Yet this new media currency – an “attentive CPM”, if you will – needs to be better understood before we can embrace it wholesale.

At the moment, there is no single definition of how attention is measured. Standardising this will allow advertisers to physically trade on the currency of attention at the platform level, with set pricing values. These, in turn, should take into account the broad range of factors that impact attention, from format and targeting to the environment.

Once these challenges have been met, it’s my hope that we can evolve into a new attention-led space, where brands are tempted away from the age-old comforts of CPM buying and meaningful engagement outweighs the number of ads on-page. This will create a lasting framework for the kind of accessible, memorable user experience that allows advertisers and consumers alike to have their pint and drink it.