How Brands Can Use Attention Metrics to Find Value and Possibly Fix the Web


Implementing findings from rigorous research, Adelaide measures several factors to determine “Attention Units” – a quality metric that evaluates coverage clutter duration and position of ad placements. Marc Guldimann, CEO, Adelaide, talks about how technology and attention metrics can be used to understand the true value of media.

Coined by Charles Goodhart in 1975, Goodhart’s Law dictates that “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Practically, once an incentive structure is based on a few metrics, market participants inevitably game them to render the measures obsolete. 

Though Goodhart was originally critiquing Margaret Thatcher’s monetary policy, he could just as easily have been describing the problems with digital advertising metrics. 

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Measuring TV Ads vs. Digital Ads

Since the advent of TV, brands thrived on the Gross Ratings Point, or GRP. They provided brands with a consistent proxy for reaching consumers with their TV ad. This translated into consumers being aware of, and eventually buying products.

The consistency of the GRP is largely thanks to the uniformity of the format. Holding aside pod position, and the different amounts of attention paid to TV programs that were “appointment-viewed” to those used as background noise, a TV impression is remarkably uniform. So in TV the Frequency part of the Reach X Frequency formula for GRPs actually meant something.

When Ad Metrics Fail

Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case in digital media. Advertisers are faced with dozens of different formats from a single publisher, and hundreds of formats when they look across the entire digital ecosystem. A unit of frequency, or an impression in digital parlance, is not uniform. It could mean one of 15 tiny ads on a page that is 50% on screen for two seconds or a full coverage video ad on the page for over 10 seconds.

This disparity in quality of impressions opens the door for abuse, first by bad actors and then by the market as a whole as it slowly learns that buyers treat all impressions the same. The bigger the disparity between the metric and actual quality, the bigger the opportunity for abuse. 

In the long run, this creates incentives for the sell-side of a market to produce the lowest quality version of a product that meets the threshold set by the metric. It’s not hard to see how “viewability”, as defined by the MRC, created the incentives that drove us into the dumpster fire commonly known as the ad-supported web.

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Attention Metrics Solve Ad Measurement Inconsistency

Whenever a market becomes as dysfunctional as digital marketing there are arbitrage opportunities for buyers with proprietary data. We’ve started to see this in the growing qCPM movement where buyers of advertising measure the quality of impressions using attention metrics. There are cases of buyers doubling the impact of their ad spend simply by optimizing towards higher quality placements. When buyers can differentiate between media quality, they’re able to invest for the highest impact. 

The upside of this is the incentives that qCPM buyers bring to the market. They’ve started to reverse the impact of 8 years of gaming viewability. Now sellers of media actually have a reason to produce higher-quality inventory – they get paid more for it.

In this case, Attention metrics not only provide value for buyers as they can find bargains that the rest of the market can’t see, but it delivers incentives that create experiences that benefit consumers. When’s the last time adtech did that?