New media currency: how we decided to measure attention to advertising and what came of it (part 1)

Up to 4000 advertising messages catch up with us every day on different media – from smartphones to billboards. Digital services, brands, media and more compete mercilessly for attention. Obviously, in the context of an overabundance of offers, content and advertising, traditional metrics of reach and response become insufficient KPI for product owners.

We in the Dentsu Aegis Network advertising group decided to study a radically new approach to assessing the effectiveness of advertising, focusing on attention as the metric that most widely reflects the human perception of advertising.


As part of the Attention Economy Russia project, we took the first step towards a new media currency and, together with the Synopsis Group, conducted a pilot study of audience attention to advertising on different platforms. In the first part, it was devoted to television, which will be discussed in this article. In the next, we’ll talk about measuring attention in digital (on desktop and mobile).

How it all started

For a session of 40 minutes on a smartphone, a person consumes up to 200 advertising messages of various types, and this is only one screen. The huge flow of information and advertising clatter leads to a low level of focus, background and even lack of attention to information.

Let’s plan the situation: a young mother watches TV while she is doing her household chores, and the baby is sleeping. Such a background look. In the current television viewing assessment paradigm, “turned on TV” means that the content was watched. And in fact:

  • How many minutes did the gaze really look at the screen?
  • What was the viewer distracted by – a mobile phone, cooking porridge, work?
  • And if a child wakes up in another room and the TV is turned on?

The questions are not just rhetorical, but require research and understanding of the importance of attention, its impact on key indicators of advertising effectiveness on different platforms for its placement.

Given the context, coverage has long seemed insufficient KPI, which is why indicators such as searches or viewability (visibility of an advertising message) began to appear in advertising. Now, targeted KPI in digital can be targeted, high-quality and viewable coverage, and on TV it is almost impossible because of the complexity of monitoring.

We have long looked towards the economy of attention in relation to media and advertising, but we were inspired by concrete steps in this direction global study attention that our group started in 2019 in Australia, the UK and the USA. So, it was decided to conduct a local laboratory wave of research in order to test hypotheses related to attention on key screens in Russia.

As part of the pilot, it was important for us to answer the following questions:

  • What technologies will help us evaluate the attention to advertising on different media?
  • What types of attention to advertising exist?
  • Is there a relationship between attention and effectiveness?
  • Can attention affect the industry in terms of building a new model of advertising sales, taking into account the quality of contact based on the level of attention at the time of viewing the advertising message?

Since the task is very ambitious, we need a progressive process: start with proof that attention is really an important indicator for evaluating the effectiveness of advertising, test the technology, and at the second stage carry out a large-scale qualitative study and collect quantitative results for the formation of the metric.

Next, we will tell how we managed to make reconnaissance in battle – to test the methodology and technology, to collect hypotheses and observations for the quantitative stage. The pilot study consisted of two parts, in the first, with the support of a single seller of NRA television advertising, we focused on assessing the level of attention to television advertising. See what happened.

How did the study

We have formulated two key hypotheses:

  1. Attention dynamically changes depending on the day of the week, time of day, structure of the ad unit and external factors.
  2. The more intense attention to advertising, the higher its effect.

To test hypotheses, we stopped in Moscow and took measurements among the most popular audience of advertisers 25-44. Recruiting of the “average Muscovite” was done according to the audience profile of the research panel of Mediascope (the largest media meter in Russia) – social parameters and characteristics of media consumption. This was necessary for further interpretation of the results in relation to indicators generally accepted in the media market.

Three types of attention were identified in the study: full (direct eye contact with the TV screen when the sound is on), background (peripheral contact with the sound turned on and minor distractions such as using a smartphone) and absent (no person in front of the TV screen, for example, when he left the room).

A key parameter in assessing effectiveness has been the recallability of advertising. During the study, we decided to check how attention to the advertising message is converted into memorization (with and without a hint).

Obviously, in order to determine the level of attention to television content, it is very important to take measurements at home, or in natural surroundings, so that respondents have the opportunity to really be distracted by what they find in their daily routine – cooking, talking with other family members and etc.

To do this, we installed two cameras in the room with the main TV. One wide-angle camera directly at the TV observed the dynamics of the respondent’s attention while watching and switching to other actions. The second camera was a kind of analogue of the People Meter, which is widely used in measuring the TV audience, and was sent to the TV to fix the air. This made it possible to subsequently synchronize with Mediascope data and separate ads from the main broadcast content.

As part of the test, we tried to select commercials that only started on the air and did not have time to become familiar to the respondents. The cameras were in the apartment of the respondents for several days, so we were able to fix 24 hours of viewing on weekdays and weekends. At the end of the day, respondents passed a survey in which they noted the ads that they saw over the past day on television.


The key conclusion of both the global and the local pilot of the study: users watch ads mainly in the background. About half of all viewing situations are characterized by background attention. In particular, less than a quarter of views receive full attention on TV.

The main disruptor of attention while watching TV is a smartphone (40% of switching from full to background attention). At the same time, switching from an intense type of attention to a passive one is often associated with personal factors: in 2/3 of the cases, respondents are not distracted from watching TV, they themselves begin to watch content less involved.

There is a difference in the degree of involvement depending on the days of the week and the intervals during the day. In the morning hours there is a lower share of full attention in favor of the absent: respondents leave the TV on for the morning routine, moving around the apartment and distracted by usual things, such as making breakfast.

A high proportion of missing attention in the morning negatively affects the overall share of missing attention on weekdays, while the proportion of total attention on weekdays and weekends is no different.


Curious were the results on the dynamics of attention inside the ad unit. The first, and subsequent transition from one type of attention to another happens on average at 27 seconds. At the first three switching attention, its intensity decreases slightly, and closer to the end of the ad unit begins to grow.

When moving from mainstream content to an ad unit, the share of full attention is 28%, sharply falling to 18% in the first video. By the end of the ad unit, the level of full attention begins to grow on average three commercials before the resumption of on-air content. The last clip has 34% of full attention.

A decrease in engagement is associated with defocusing of attention. Respondents get tired without stopping to watch even interesting and deliberately chosen television content. Some of them switch to other parallel actions, so attention is reduced even before the ad unit begins. At the same time, respondents do not want to miss the start of the continuation of the main broadcast and return attention to the screen a few videos before the end of the ad unit.

For example, you are watching a series. The action, as often happens, dragged on, and you were distracted by household chores. Suddenly you hear that there is an unexpected plot twist, and, of course, the advertisement immediately begins. In order not to miss the continuation in any way, after a certain period of time (during which, as you think, the ad unit should last), you sit down in front of the TV with a readiness to watch advertising.


Another important observation is related to the information clatter. We saw that the shorter the commercial at the beginning of the block, the faster the intensity of attention decreases. So, if the average duration of commercials is 10 seconds or less, then the attention will be switched to 15-20 seconds (on average, 2-3 videos in a block will be watched). If the average duration of the first clips in the block is more than 15 seconds, then attention switching will occur at 60 seconds and beyond.

When assessing engagement in television advertising, one should not underestimate the impact of sound. Sound accompaniment approximately doubles the recognition of the video.

Most importantly, as a result of the study, we found a direct correlation between the intensity of attention to advertising and the level of its memorization: the more intense the attention, the higher the recognition. This is also true for recognition with a hint̆, and without it.

To recognize a movie with a hint, full attention is almost twice as effective as viewing with background intensity. We tested new commercials and recalling them without a hint without reaching the required frequency is quite difficult, but the frames of those commercials that were watched with full attention are easier to recall.


What’s next

Many of the conclusions seem logical and understandable, but most of them were measured and digitized for the first time on the market. Pilot TV research has helped us believe that we are on the right track. Attention – a significant factor that affects the effectiveness of advertising contact.

Moreover, we understand that it is really important to conduct a study at home using cameras that capture the direction of view and the presence of sound when viewed in the background to determine a wide pool of distraction situations and their impact on the perception of television broadcast.

We plan to scale up the research in the second wave, during which we will try to cope with the artifacts of the pilot stage, stabilize the sample representative for the whole country, understand the significance of the content surrounding the advertisement, the frequency of impressions, and also evaluate not only direct, but also sponsorship advertising.

And the most important ambition for us is the formation of a new currency of the advertising industry – qCPP, where “ku” ”is an indicator of attention.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *