Wobblers go to Hollywood

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Consider the humble wobbler – that little piece of cardboard attached to a supermarket shelf by a band of plastic. There it is, wobbling away, trying to attract your attention to a special offer or a price cut. It’s so tiny, is it even worth researching?

But think again. Think of all the wobblers, bobbing up and down supermarket aisles across the country, all the plastic and the cardboard that goes into making them and their bigger brethren. Think of the millions of pounds that are spent on making point-of-sale materials in the UK – in the world! - this year. Think of all the time and effort that goes into commissioning, designing, producing and installing these vital drivers of business. And then you start thinking – why aren’t we researching these things more?

Partly it’s down to time, and partly it’s down to cost. Eye tracking is a brilliant tool to assess and optimise the impact of point of sale materials, but it has, up to now, taken a lot of time and money. But at Lumen, we believe that we have a revolutionary solution to pre-test POS at scale in days not weeks, and at a fraction of the cost of traditional techniques.

Eye tracking shows you what people actually see, not just what they could see. As such, it is a brilliant tool for understanding the reality of attention within busy environments like supermarkets. Yeah, sure, people could see the wobbler, or the shelf barker, or the hanging board. The real question is did people look at it, and did it affect their behaviour? We’ve done many studies to investigate what actually catches the eye in store - and affects the wallet – and helped retailers save millions of pounds optimising their inventory.

However, these projects tend to be pretty resource intensive. To understand the difference between the impact of wobbler A and wobbler B, clients have to design and print up both wobblers, and then install the wobblers in store on different days, and then send people in store wearing eye tracking glasses to see the difference in attention between the two wobblers. It’s enough to give anyone the wibbles.

So, we have developed a new and revolutionary way of working that combines Hollywood-style special effects with our proprietary webcam eye tracking technology. It allows you to test far more options, amongst far more shoppers, far more quickly, for much less money.

What we do is this:

·        Step 1: We make a film of a typical shopping trip from the point of view of a typical shopper.

·        Step 2: We identify key POS locations that we’re interested in, and use Hollywood-style special effects developed by our friends at Mirriad to swap Wobbler Design A for Wobbler Design B (or any other feature, to be honest) within the film. If the type of POS that you’re interested in isn’t in the original film, don’t worry. We can add in totally new POS into the film, no hassle.

·        Step 3: We recruit respondents online, so they can watch films and do the eye tracking on the films on their home computers. We can then give people a post-test questionnaire to assess recall and purchase intent.

Check out the videos below that we have made with our friends at Tesco to see how realistic the doctored films are:

Pretty cool, huh? But who noticed that we had also added in a load of shelf barkers to the second film? Watch the video again, or look closely at the two images below to see the subtle differences and additions to the films. Changing the header board shows that the technology is astonishing. Adding in the barkers shows that the technology is useful.

Original version: without the yellow barkers

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Doctored version: including yellow shelf barkers

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There are many advantages to this approach:

·        No need for printing and installing POS – all we need is the pdfs or mp4s to insert in to the film

·        Less disruption in store, as all we need to do is make one film and then let Mirriad work their magic

·        More flexibility to test more POS options: if you have 10 designs to test, we can make ten films – rather than doing 10 different days of research. Want to see the effect of having lots or little POS? Boom: it’s done in a couple of hours, rather than a couple of months.

·        Greater methodological control: everyone sees the same film, so any differences in attention and recall will be attributable to the changes in the POS, and nothing else

·        Greater scalability: simplicity of webcam eye tracking means that we can conduct tests amongst hundreds of respondents, anywhere in the world, for the same cost as we could do 10 respondents using eye tracking glasses

·        Speed: get results in days, not weeks

·        Normative comparison: by conducting numerous tests on the same ‘base films’ we can begin to build up a normative database to benchmark the results of each individual test

Of course, it’s not quite the same as going into a store and getting people to look at the actual POS using eye tracking glasses. There will always be a role for that kind of research, if you have the time and budget. But if you want actionable insight about POS, quickly and cheaply, then this revolutionary combination of Hollywood-style special effects and webcam eye tracking is for you.

Wobblers: it’s time for your close up.

Lumen point of sale pre-testing tool wins in Brussels

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Another busy week for us as we were pitching some of our latest innovations to the P&G and Partners Corporate Day, organised in collaboration with the European Innovation Council.

We picked up a prize for best pitch: another one to go into the trophy cabinet.

We won for a new approach to pre-testing point of sale materials. Our winning idea combines our accurate webcam eye tracking with Hollywood-style special effects create a scalable and affordable pre testing tool for point of sale materials.

Pre-testing POS is hard. There’s no point showing people designs out of context because the question you want to answer is ‘will people notice these materials while shopping?’

To get over this problem, brands and retailers have in the past adopted two approaches. You could do live tests, printing up various design options and then sending in hundreds of people into store wearing eye tracking glasses to see if they notice or act on design more than another. It’s highly accurate, but pretty expensive and disruptive in store.

Or you could build a 3D virtual store – a bit like a computer game - and insert various POS options into the environment. You can then get people to explore the environment and see if they notice the POS. This is also pretty expensive, and is, at the end of the day, still a computer game.

Our solution is a bit different. We send in a team to make a short film of a shopping trip from the shopper’s point of view. We then edit and manipulate the film with the help of special effects company Mirriad, swapping header boards in and shelf barkers out at will. We then conduct eye tracking tests on these different films at scale and speed using our proprietary webcam eye tracking technology. It’s easier and more scalable than conducting a glasses-base study; more realistic than shopping within a computer game; and quicker and cheaper than both.

Here are a couple of stills from the demo films we showed in Brussels. The first image from the ‘base’ film we made for Tesco.

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The second image comes from the manipulated test film, where we have added in some barkers, and changed the header board. And, okay, we pandered to our European audience!

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Get in touch if you would like to learn more about this revolutionary approach to testing and optimising POS.

Amplifying your attention


Sometimes you can go about your business, blissfully oblivious to ads around you. But notice one ad once, and then you seem to see the campaign everywhere. This ‘priming effect’ is well known in psychology literature, but formed the jumping off point for our friends at Inskin Media.

They designed a fascinating study to understand if you are more likely to notice subsequent ads if you have looked at an initial ad. The research confirmed what the scientists have been telling us: visual priming is a real, and powerful, driver of attention to advertising.

This has major implications for advertisers. It suggests that you should fight hard to get your campaign noticed initially – buying bigger or longer ads in the opening stages of a campaign – because this will have an ‘amplification effect’ on the smaller or shorter ads that you buy later. Front loading the campaign with a ‘big bang’ early multiplies the effect of subsequent ‘drips’. You can read the findings here.

We thought that the project was both fascinating and important. And guess what? So did the judges at Mediatel’s Connected Consumer Awards, the Connies. Inskin put the project up for an award, and this week is was shortlisted for an award. They are up against a bunch of other Lumen clients - for the record, we have no favourites.

So congratulations to Fran, Dom, Aditya and Caitlin at Inskin: fingers crossed!

Bienvenidos a Lumen

We had the honour of welcoming a delegation from the Argentinian IAB at Lumen Towers last week, with representatives from Clarin, La Nacion, Wunderman and Google Argentina. The challenges that quality publishers face – and the benefits they offer advertisers – are the same round the world.

The great news is that with Lumen’s webcam eye tracking, we can conduct studies at scale and speed anywhere round the world and amongst any group. This year alone, we have done studies in Denmark, Canada, the US, Australia and Italy – all from the comfort of leafy north London.

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Thanks very much to Charlie Shaw of the Argentinian IAB for arranging the visit.

Lumen at the Insight Show

Come and hear us talk about getting an ‘unfair share of attention’ at the Insight Show in Olympia next Wednesday at 11.10am on the Showcase stage – it’s part of the broader Marketing Week Live event.

We’ll also be exhibiting at the show, and demonstrating our new POS testing tools and mobile eye tracking. Come and say hi!

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Location, location, location

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We were in Helsinki last month, at the guests of Finnpanel, talking to media planners and buyers about the reality of attention to online video. There was a very big screen.

Size matters. As we have noted before, big posters get more attention than small posters. Big billboard banner ads get more attention than MPUs. Video ads on big desktop screens get more attention that video ads on little mobile screens.

But size isn’t everything. What we find time and again is that attention to advertising is a function of attention to the surrounding content. The more you engage with the content, the more you engage with the advertising. This is why an ad placed next to some high quality journalism that you savour slowly will get more attention than when it is placed next to train times that you glance at quickly.

And the best performing ads are placed as close as possible to the most engaging content. Below is a meta-analysis of over 200,000 page impressions we have captured on our UK-based desktop panel since 2016, showing where attention tends to go on a typical web-page.

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You can see that the heat is often at the top of the page, and follows the content down the centre left of the page.

Which begs the question, where would you put your ads? In line with the content, where they are likely to get noticed, or to the right-hand side, where they are much more likely to get ignored?

As Kirsty and Phil will tell you, it’s all about location, location, location.

Secrets of the skip button

Secrets of the skip button

Digital video delivers lots of attention, but is it the right kind of attention? If you force people to watch an ad, won’t they just stare at the skip button, poised to strike as soon as the time is up?

We recently did an analysis of over 1000 YouTube ads that we had collected from our panel to investigate this issue.

First, the bad news, or at least, the expected news. People do look at the skip button. You are not alone. Everyone does it. The chart below shows the percentage chance of a person looking at different areas of the screen, and there a big red blob where the skip button sits.

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There’s also a smaller blob of heat in the bottom left of the screen. This corresponds with people looking at the time left in the ad, counting down the seconds until they can see their cat videos.

But that’s not the whole story. Sure, people look at the skip button, but they don’t hate-watch it. The time spent looking at the skip button is brief. The second chart, below, shows the time spent looking in different areas. This reveals that time spent looking at the skip button is short: the majority of the attention goes to the centre of the screen.

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What does this mean for advertisers? BRANDED SKIP BUTTONS. Simple as. Someone has to do this. Please, for the love of God, someone has to do this.

Hard Pivot

Hard Pivot

Thank you to everyone who has noticed our new venture: an over fifties dating app. Yes, it’s a hard pivot for an attention technology company, but hey, you have to do what you love.

This isn’t the only brand extension that we have launched recently. Even I was unaware that we appear to have opened a retreat centre in Euston and a restaurant in Paris.

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There are also ambitious plans for us to launch an SI unit to measure light. Watch this space!

The power of pre-roll


We were at the asi conference in Athens last week talking about differences in attention to advertising across media channels. Regular readers will know, of course, that not all impressions are created equal: big ads get more attention than small ads; print display ads often get more attention than digital display ads; video ads have a better chance of being noticed than static ads; and so on. These attention differentials have a knock-on effect for both long term brand building – as Ebiquity have also found – and short term sales.

But the audience in Athens was interested in TV and OLV. How does pre-roll compare to the other media we track?

The short answer is that it rocks.

Below, you can see the ‘attention curve’ for ads in different channels. The data in the subsequent charts either comes from our UK desktop panel, or aggregated results from bespoke tests we have conducted for OOH, Print and Mobile over the last five years. It shows the percentage of people who notice an ad at all, and the percentage of people who look at ads for at least 1 second, 2 seconds, 3 seconds and so on. Two things to note: this data is cumulative, so people could glance at an ad three times for half a second each time, and we would record the aggregate attention to the ad as 1.5 seconds. And we have applied the same viewability standard (50% of the ad, for 1 second or more) across all the media, so that we can compare like with like.


What it shows is that pre-roll ads, either on publisher sites or on platforms such as YouTube, get a boatload of attention. If a pre-roll ad is viewable, then it is almost guaranteed to be viewed, which is highly unusual. And it is likely to get viewed for much longer than other media and formats that we track. Roughly 40% of viewable print ads get 1 second or more attention; roughly 80% of viewable pre-roll ads get at least a second, and over half of them get over 4 seconds of attention.  By way of comparison, only about 6% of desktop digital display ads get a second or more attention.

This superior performance is driven by a mix of factors. Creative plays a part: advertisers try harder to make pre-roll advertising interesting and engaging, whereas display ads are often churned out willy-nilly. If more effort went into creative development of display ads, then the results might be better. Until then, junk in, junk out.

But there are two other factors that drive the results.

Firstly, size matters. As we have said before, bigger ads get more attention than smaller ads. Pre-roll ads just take up more pixels than almost any other form of advertising we track, and, crucially, take up a far greater proportion of the screen – often 100% of the screen. There’s simply nowhere else to look. Of course, some people still find a way to avoid the ads: they look away from the screen or open up a new tab or look at the comments below the video. But it’s less of a problem than you might think. It seems that we have to make more of an active effort to look away from a pre-roll ad than you do from other formats, and while few people actively want to watch the ads, far fewer can be arsed to actively avoid them.

Which brings us to the second reason that pre-roll ads do so well: we are forced to watch them. It seems that if the content is worth it, we’ll sit through quite a substantial portion of an ad to get to it. Below, you can see the percentage of people who are looking at each second of a pre-roll ad as it plays. This means that it’s different from the aggregate attention curve that is shown above. It’s also worth noting that this data is exclusively from desktop computers, and not from mobile, which has different attention patterns.


What this shows is that at any given time, about 60% of viewers are actively engaging with pre-roll ads – and that this is just as true for 20” non-skippable ads as for 6” non-skippable ads. If people are forced to watch the ads, then watch them they will.

Of course, if they are not forced to watch them, they won’t. If you look at the line for the skippable ads, then that declines quickly over time. But the drop off is less precipitous than you might expect. 60% of viewers stick with the ads for 5 seconds or so, which is the sort of result that we only ever see for double page spreads in Print. This may be down to the fact that it may take people a bit of time to find the skip button on desktop – and modern ‘ecstasy of fumbling’. Or it could be down to the fact that pre-roll creative is, relatively speaking, quite good, and people don’t mind giving the brands a few seconds of their time. Creative is really important.

A quick side note on the skip button: yes, everyone looks there, but not for very long. We did an analysis of over 1000 desktop pre-roll ads YouTube ads recently, to create an aggregate heat map of where attention goes in general. Below, you can see a visualisation of the percentage chance that different areas of the screen will get look at at all:


Check out the mad heat in the bottom right hand corner – which is where the skip button is. Pretty much everyone looks there. And there’s some secondary heat in the bottom left hand corner, where people are obviously looking at the clock to check how long they have to endure the ad for.

But that’s not the whole story. Sure, people check the skip button, but no one is staring at it rather than the action of the ad. The second chart visualises the proportion of time spent looking at the different areas:


As you can see, by far the majority of the attention of the ad goes to the centre of the screen – on the action of the ad. People don’t hate-watch the skip button: they glance at it, and then watch the ad until it’s over. They may prefer not to watch an ad, but hey, what are you going to do? You’re getting free football highlights or cat videos once it’s done.

What does this mean for advertisers and publishers? Firstly, that that they should treat pre-roll very differently from display. Pre-roll is what you might call a ‘sequential’ media, where ads follow content which follows ads, whereas print, OOH and most digital formats are fundamentally ‘simultaneous’ media, where the ads and the content compete for attention at the same time. Given that we can only focus on one thing at a time, and that ads are usually less interesting than the content they accompany, ‘simultaneous’ media are at an inherent disadvantage to ‘sequential’ media. In response, ‘simultaneous’ media owners, such as newsbrands or social media platforms, should strive to simplify their sites to reduce clutter and increase standout of their ads. The Guardian’s commitment to ‘fewer, better ads’, served in prominent locations, makes it far closer to a ‘sequential’ media owner than many of its competitors. Facebook’s in-line ad formats take up much of the prime real estate of the desktop screen, and consequently are more ‘sequential’ in nature. This is part of the reason that desktop ads on Facebook get 50% more attention than the norm. 

Secondly, we should re-evaluate skippable ad time lengths. There’s a move in advertising towards 6” video ads across both TV and digital at the moment. In their place, I am sure that they are quite useful. At the same conference in Athens, the Yan Liu of TVision gave a fascinating and compelling presentation about their utility on TV. But Yan was quick to point out that while 6” ads get looked at and can be well remembered, they are best used to trigger established memories, rather than building them in the first place.

If you are in the business of making memories, however, you may need more than 6” to get the job done. And it seems that pre-roll advertising may be actually quite a good way of delivering these longer messages. Many consumers are prepared to stick around for 20” to get to the content that they want to watch. This may seem like a long time, but it’s less than the 2-3 minutes we have to endure on terrestrial TV in the UK (and 4-5 minutes you might have sit through in the States). Further work will have to be done to calibrate the optimal timelength in this ‘attention exchange’, but at first look, pre-roll looks like an ‘attention bargain’ for the advertiser, the publisher and, crucially, the viewer.

Initiative’s contributor panel

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In the closing weeks of Black History Month, one of Lumen’s Attention Consultants, Emmanuel Agu, was invited by IPG Mediabrands (via Initiative), to speak to a room full of creatives, eager to expand their understanding, and interrogate the representation of black culture in the media. Here’s his account of the event.

I was grateful to be joined by such wonderful thinkers Adébayo Bolaji, Damola Oladapo , and Nelson Abbey, co-author of upcoming novel ‘Think Like a White Man’. To initiate the evening of discussion we were posed with one key question:

“in the internet age, do people have enough influence to make change on the representation of black people in the media, or is it only politics that can make this change?”, steered by our wonderful host, Mimi Okorie.

We began by casting our minds back to press coverage in the wake of the London riots following the death of Mark Duggan. There was complete unanimity on the awful media discourse of this time; papers and news reels were littered with racialised depictions of “opportunistic thugs” embroiled in gang warfare, as opposed to those illustrating disenfranchised and angry youth. Though we had conceded some progress had been made since days past, it feels as if expecting anything more than the stereotypical facsimiles of thugs, gangs and social disobedience from an industry dominated by the white and structurally privileged,  is an unrealistic goal.  

We turned our eyes instead to brilliant community owned projects such as gal-dem and media diversified, providing spaces for exploration of talent for Black (and minority) people, as well as pushing back against tired narratives dominating the zeitgeist.

Similarly, whilst we lament(ed) the need for such channels, we celebrated the power of #blacklivesmatter hashtags across social media, drawing a spotlight on injustices faced by our communities, whilst managing to somehow lower the socioeconomic bar of entry required to contribute to these discussions. Yet still, we worried about the accessibility of such platforms – who’s voices dominate these discussions? What measures are put in place to defend those from the attacks of trolls? Why do we see the plight of Americans’ used to diminish those in the UK? What are the long-term effects for the marginalized, waking up day after day to seeing black and brown bodies brutalized by the state again and again?

Next, we turned our eyes to focus on creative and advertising strategy. As we navigated this discussion,  we brought case studies and examples, citing the fallout from such campaigns like Heineken, and perhaps “tone deaf” ad placements from H&M. next we contrasted the consequences and success of Pepsi’s ad featuring Kendall Jenner and Nike’s ad featuring Kaepernick. We were led to question the racial composition of the production teams in the first three instances – could such creative really be produced if black people were present in these spaces? And if they are, do they feel empowered enough to speak up in their workplaces?

Whilst the pursuit of justice and equality in all that we do is admirable, we acknowledged that we still navigate a capitalist society – profit is king. Nike’s ad showcases the potential to beyond the ordinary, disrupting the status quo in a political manner, whilst still remaining entirely profitable.   

The question posed at the start of discussion will, of course, be debated for many more black history months to come, but, I feel as if the fundamental answer is clear. Progress cannot happen if there are simply no black people in these spaces. for some larger corporations, perhaps positive discrimination programs might be seen as a stop-gap measure, but ensuring those we take into the industry are well supported in equal professional discourses, whilst guaranteeing them agency to assemble and network with peers – we will be sure to continue to head in the right direction.