Mary Meeker: Time spent ≠ attention

Note to Mary Meeker: time spent with a medium does NOT equal time spent with advertising on that medium

Mary Meeker’s latest exhaustive and exhausting Internet Trends report is out. As ever, it is packed with interesting and important information. As ever, one slide stands out as egregiously simplistic: the time spent with media vs the ad spend on that media.

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This year, the story is one of market sanity: people in the US spend roughly 18% of their media time on desktops and 33% of it on mobile phones, and hey, guess what? Advertisers spend roughly 18% of the budgets on desktop ads, and 33% mobile advertising. This is compared 2010, when time spent/media spend was seriously out of kilter. Looks like someone has been listening to Mary Meeker.

(And let’s be honest, folks, someone HAS been listening to Mary Meeker. Her insights and her report have genuinely moved the market over the last few years, and she has done a brilliant job of highlighting interesting opportunities).

But according to this analysis, print spend still looks overweight, and where is Cinema and OOH? You can bet that, compared to time spent with the media, investment is over egged.

Is the market really so irrational? Why do brands keep on ploughing money into these media even if people aren’t spending lots of time there?

This is because not all ads are created equal. People are very good at avoiding advertising, and ads on some media are simply easier to ignore than ads on other media. People might spend a lot of time on desktops, but advertising on desktops is much easier to ignore than ads on mobile, or TV. People might not read newspapers as much as they used to, but when they do, they notice the ads far more frequently, and spend much more time with them, than they do with digital media.

Over the last 6 years, we at Lumen Research have conducted hundreds of eye tracking projects to understand the reality of attention to advertising across media. For the last 3 years, we’ve been running the world’s first passive eye tracking panel: hundreds of consumers are paid to install a small eye tracking camera onto their home laptop computers which tracks everything they notice – and crucially, everything they ignore – when they go on line.

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When you look at our data in aggregate, you notice an interesting and important fact: just because you can see an ad does not mean that you will see it. Even ‘viewable’ advertising isn’t always ‘viewed’. The ‘attention gap’ between viewable and viewed advertising varies wildly between media. Only 20% of viewable desktop display ads actually get viewed. Mobile ads are far harder to ignore: about 60% of them are actually seen. But Print and OOH ads are far more visible: between 70% and 80% of viewable print and OOH ads actually get noticed. Pre-roll advertising on desktop is unique in that almost everyone who can see it, does see it. Our friends at TVision have some interesting complementary data on this subject when it comes to TV advertising.

Secondly, the eyes-on dwell time with all forms of advertising are much shorter than you might imagine. The average time that people actually spend looking at a desktop display ad is 1.3 seconds; with a mobile ad, it’s about 1.5 seconds; 1.7 for a poster; 2.1 for the average print ad; and a whopping 9 seconds with a pre-roll ad on desktop. Already, you can see that the effective reach and the effective dwell time with ads in different media is radically different.

Thirdly, you can see that the dwell time averages are not based on a normal distribution, but are skewed to one end: most people just glance at most ads, though once in a while an ad will really capture your attention and you’ll spent 3-4 seconds with it. This happens far more frequently with print and posters than it does with digital and mobile.

We can begin to understand that media buyers might not be mad after all. Advertisers ‘over invest’ in print (and out-of-home) because people ‘over invest’ their time in advertising on these media. In fact, it may be that the true learning to be taken from Ms Meeker’s charts is not that the market has reached equilibrium in digital ad spend, but that we are spending too much on digital channels given the relative ‘weakness’ of ads on these media.

If you were to buy 1000 viewable impressions across different media, and then take into account how likely it is that each ad gets noticed at all, and then how long it is likely to be actually looked at, how many minutes of actual attention to advertising would each medium produce? Our analysis suggests that you would get 2.5 minutes of attention from 1000 desktop display ads. You’d get twice that for mobile ads, which are that much harder to ignore. But you would get 10 times that for 1000 print ads. And you would get 50 times that investing in desktop pre-roll.

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Advertisers don’t care if people could see their ads. They care that people did see their ads. Some media are just better than others at converting the potential for attention into actual eyeballs on ads. This is what drives business results, and this is what should be driving investment levels. Perhaps there’s method in this market madness after all?

When in Rome


We were in Rome this week, speaking alongside JCDecaux at the Festival of Media about attention across different types of advertising. The media advertisers use may change all the time, but our eyes stay the same. This means that we can use eye tracking as a common ‘currency of attention’ to evaluate the relative impact of each type of advertising.

Eye tracking across media throws up some interesting insights. Out-of-home advertising is often seen as a salience media – great at getting you reach, but best for short, sharp messages. Looking at the data, this is, in fact, true. But interestingly it’s true for digital display too! In both media, you should assume that you are only likely to get about 2 seconds attention. So, when developing creative, ‘think like a poster’ – even if it’s not a poster!

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Our talk in the Eternal City allowed us to uncover another eternal truth across media.  We recently found interesting priming effects in digital media with our friends at Inskin. If you precede a normal MPU with a big shiny Pageskin from Inskin, then the MPU gets more attention than you would expect. The Pageskin ‘amplifies’ the effect of subsequent ads. You can read more about it here.

Is this effect unique to digital? We set up an interesting little experiment in collaboration with our friends at Heineken and JCDecaux. Using our new live in context pre-testing tool, we were able to create an A/B test of the attention to 6$ posters in Liverpool Street Station. We made one film where there was just one 6$ poster from Heineken; another where it was preceded by an additional 6$ from Heineken; and finally a third where it was preceded by a nice big 48$ poster.

Example stills from our test films, showing station scene with and without 48$ Heineken poster.

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The results of this OOH ‘amplification’ test are largely in line with what we found with Inskin: big ads have an ‘amplification effect’ on subsequent smaller ads. There was a small uplift in attention to the second 6$ even if it was only preceded with another 6$. But the effects were far greater if it was preceded by a big, bold 48$. As with the Inskin study, we saw that the biggest effects weren’t on how many people noticed the subsequent ad, but how long they spent with it.

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This little learning has major implications for advertisers. Just as no man is an island, so too no ad is ever seen entirely in isolation from what has gone before. Understanding the ‘attention stock’ of your campaign, and how attention to one ad influences attention to others, could help you to get bigger bang for your buck.

The conference as a whole was fantastic, with fascinating talks from the likes of The Washington Post, Formula 1 and our friends at Adidas. And it was great fun collaborating on the project with my fellow speaker, Neil Eddleston of JCDecaux and Ron Amram of Heineken, without who’s support we wouldn’t have had much to say! Adform sponsored the Innovation Stage at the Festival of Media, so we’re very grateful to them too. All I can say is: book your tickets for the next event now (which just happens to be in Miami)

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!