This article was originally published on Forbes Tech Council.
Here's a harsh reality: Marketers spend billions of dollars each year on ads that no one ever sees. This is not a new problem; back in 2014, Google released research showing that humans never saw 56% of all digital ads served. Fraud, bots and bad inventory quality were all making the digital ad ecosystem a mess. It's been eight years since then, and even though the fraud and bots problem has gotten better, too many ads are still never seen.
Viewability is not a magic bullet or even the main objective for your ads. Viewability, brand safety, fraud and bot detection are all preconditions for good advertising. They're basic hygiene and the first step on the road toward measuring ad effectiveness.
However, the real metric that matters is attention—or more specifically, attention time. Viewability is about where the publisher chooses to put the ad. Attention time captures how long a person views an ad on a particular article. Viewability doesn't tell you whether your creative is engaging or interesting, but attention time does.
Attention is not new, and it's well understood that you want to measure ad attention when you're planning and researching your campaign approach and vendors. Ultimately, however, it's even more valuable to use attention for real-time optimization.
When compared to viewability, attention time is much more potent in terms of driving awareness. When it comes to media buying, measurement and optimization, incorporating attention time is a three-step journey:
Step 1: Planning
Say you have X amount of dollars to spend and you want to reach 25- to 44-year-old women. Attention data can tell you the best places to serve your ad and how much to allocate to each channel—whether it's YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok or display ads in The Cut.
Step 2: Measurement
The next step in the attention journey is measurement. You want to measure what actually happens for your campaign, not simply hypothesize whether you got attention based on the planning step. Attention measurement technologies can allow you to know for sure.
Step 3: Optimization
The final piece is optimization. You don't want to find out at the end of the campaign that one source or location was a good place for attention and that another source or location didn't perform as expected. You want to know—and be able to adjust—in real time.
If you can plan and measure attention, you're off to a great start. However, it's the optimization step that most media planners and advertisers miss, and it's arguably the most essential. In a time when so much of what we do in advertising is highly sophisticated, it makes sense that we should expect the same when it comes to attention—that we should be able to not only measure it but also be able to programmatically intervene and do something about it.
Here are some initial steps marketers can take to be successful in leveraging attention time in digital campaigns:
• Define who is accountable for gathering information on available attention solutions. Is it the head of digital? The head of products and technology? The chief strategy officer? Accountability is important.
• Determine which solutions have the potential to deliver the insight they need. Do they need more informed preplanning? A better metric by which to judge ad effectiveness? A signal by which they can optimize digital activity? All of the above?
• Determine how any solutions could be incorporated into their workflow, which could be as simple as accessing via DSP.
• Know that attention is relative. Don't set a target of getting 10 seconds of attention for every ad.
• Run tests with different providers. Attention gives many advertisers the opportunity to completely revolutionize their digital strategies for the better, so it deserves proper research and comparison of solutions to determine which one will help reach specific goals.
In a digital ad landscape that's still rife with inefficiencies, optimizing toward attention time can be an important part of building successful campaigns. By harnessing technology that allows advertisers to understand how their ads capture attention, the entire industry can move one step closer to its full potential.