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Not all impressions are equal

The Attention War

Many people have asked us why we measure attention. Isn't everyone paying attention to their phone anyway?"

If you buy ads based on the assumption that users pay attention to their phones at all times, you’re not only losing money, you could also be getting much better results. Sure, having a good catchy ad is important, placing it on the correct websites to reach your target audience is also key. But what if you could show your ads only to users who are engaged with their smartphones? Not only can you do that with our product, Receptivity, but you can buy those impressions in real-time, precisely when users start being engaged. 

You’re probably quite excited to hear more about this innovative metric(as you should), but first, let’s take a look at the many reasons why all impressions are definitely not the same. 

Online ads, like any other kind, can only work if they've been actually seen. The only accurate metric we usually rely on to know if an ad was seen or not is viewability. However, not all impressions are made equal. Just because a user saw your ad on his mobile phone to show him an ad doesn't mean he was necessarily paying attention. Whether the user was in the middle of multitasking, in a noisy environment hindering his concentration or just purposely ignoring the ad on his screen, it's safe to say that we all waste money on a fair percentage of the impressions we buy. And that's without looking at much more sinister issues like bots and ad fraud.

The effectiveness of banner ads is a debate that divides the ad industry in several ways. It's undeniable that this medium is effective both in increasing brand recognition and conversion rate, but could they be better? The very existence of terms like "banner blindness" in research papers is a terrifying prospect that must be addressed.

Users are changing their online habits, and the metrics we use to target them aren't working as well as they used to. Even worse, you might not even be showing your ads to real humans. Bots and ad fraud have become rampant in the last few years, becoming frighteningly smart in their quest to steal your precious ad dollars.

Views Don't Mean Attention.

We've all been conditioned to believe that all views are equal, that if an ad was shown to a user, it was actually seen. The metrics we use to assess success are all linked in some way to views, but increasingly, impressions aren't tied to the business results you're looking for. ROAS and conversion rates have steadily declined over the years, and there isn't really a solution if you keep using the same methods.

The most prevalent advertisement used online is display ads, and they're also measured by views and clicks alone. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the way we assess the success of ads is broken. Impressions don't equate to win anymore, for many reasons. Users are starting to tune out ads as they are increasingly bombarded with them. And when it comes to views, they don't even always come from actual humans. Don't worry, we have a solution to all these problems, but first, let's look at what you're up against.

What is banner blindness?

Banner blindness is a term that has been used as early as 1998 and is based on cognitive studies that determined users ignored brightly coloured banners on websites. We all live through advertising fatigue daily, but it has more to do with how the human brain functions. Studies have shown that we process varied types of media in different parts of our brain. As we scan a webpage, we subconsciously determine what we'll need to use to process the content in front of our eyes, and if it isn't aligned with the goal in our minds, we ignore the rest.

For example, if we're reading a news article, our brain will filter out images and make us focus on the text. So brightly coloured, image-based ads have little to no chance of being focused on and remembered, while the ones incorporating more text could be perceived as part of the article and be seen by the user more attentively.

You're showing your ads to robots.

You've probably heard about hackers who build massive networks of infected machines they can then control, but did you know what they do with them once they have control over the computers? They use them to visit websites and click on ads to make certain unscrupulous publishers appear like high performers, and they split the ad dollar revenue with them. A recent estimate suggests that hackers can make US$ 26,000 per month by executing traditional denial-of-service attacks to crash websites, but click-fraud schemes can bring in over US$ 20 million a month.

With numbers like these, it's no wonder bots are such a big problem for online ads. These infected computers are now running highly advanced programs and can fake a variety of human behaviours. This is no longer a desktop-only issue; these bots can replicate a finger scroll and swipes on a smartphone as well. These methods are becoming so sophisticated that they're tough to identify, and even massive ad networks like Google Ads have a hard time catching the offenders consistently.

The responsibility ends up back in the hands of the people purchasing ads, but without any real insight into how ad networks sell you ads, what are you supposed to do? The only way to dent this kind of problem is to validate your impressions and make sure they come from real humans.

Attention Means Retention

It's a pretty well-known fact, banner ads have an abysmal click-through rate. For many advertisers, banner ads' main goal is no longer direct website visits but brand building in the same way outdoor advertising is used. However, this strategy can only work if users pay attention to the ads being shown to them.

Researchers ran eye-tracking studies and determined that paying attention to an ad for a long time led to higher brand recall. Even more interesting, even if the participant didn't remember the brand, they displayed positive attitudinal changes towards the brand. That means they subconsciously had a more positive outlook of a brand after seeing a banner ad from them, even if they didn't remember the message per se.

This makes it pretty clear that advertising online isn't just about making a catchy ad and placing it on a website with a good audience. You have to show your ad at the right moment to ensure your target customer pays attention to its phone.

The Human Context

So, what's the solution? Curing banner blindness, solving ad fraud, and grabbing users’ attention are tall tasks, but they all revolve around a central concept: Human context. The metrics we use to assess the success of ad campaigns lack one main aspect, the user's environment. Even targeting using 3rd party cookies has one major flaw. They rely on actions done in the past that might not reflect the user's current reality.

That's why we created Receptivity. It's a metric that determines a user's attention level in real-time as they're visiting a website on their phone or using a mobile app so you can show them your ad at the perfect moment. And as we've outlined, more attention means more retention of your message. So how do we determine a user's attention level?

Other metrics assume that all users are the same and only look at their actions after the fact; we, on the other hand, look at their current environment. The sensors in a user's phone allow us to determine if they're moving. We've analyzed billions of these data points and discovered patterns linked to users paying attention to their phones. That way, even if we don't have access to the specific sensor data, we can extrapolate by analyzing their behaviour while browsing a page. Receptivity is all about timing your message at the ideal moment.

Grabbing Attention Beats Ad Fraud?

As we mentioned earlier, ad fraud is rampant nowadays. Even if you're unaware of it, you're almost sure to be a victim of it. A recent study by Juniper Research found that ad fraud costs over 19 billion dollars to advertisers yearly. For most people in the ad industry, this issue is seen as unavoidable, collateral damage to the success of online ads.

To us, ad fraud is something we... don't really care about. Yes, it's still an important thing to consider, but it doesn't affect Receptivity. Since we take into account the human context, we use very sophisticated data points that simply can't be replicated by bots. While most ad fraud detection mechanisms try to detect suspicious behaviour associated with fraudulent clicks, Receptivity isolates the data points that can only be produced by attentive humans. Impressions might not all be equal, but you only get the best ones when you use Receptivity.

Use Better Metrics.

As an industry, we need to collectively agree that impressions don’t mean what they used to. We can’t just assume that users are paying attention to their phones when we show them ads. There are just too many reasons why it isn’t true anymore. It’s not that no one is paying attention to their phones, thankfully, but you do have to seek them out. 

The answer is not in the metrics we currently use but in the human context. It’s about taking out the noise around impressions to expose the genuinely worthwhile ones. 



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