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How much attention does mobile advertising really receive? And how does this compare to desktop? Mary Meeker would tell us that you should place your ads on the devices that people use the most, and people use their phones a lot. But what are you getting when you buy a mobile ad?

In the last six months, Lumen has developed some revolutionary technology that can help us understand the difference. Our new webcam eye tracking software allows us to do large-scale eye tracking projects on live websites on mobile phones. You can test and optimise your mobile ads, in context, anywhere in the world, amongst statistically significant samples.

And the learnings you can get are fascinating. It turns out that mobile ads get roughly three and a half times more ‘attention seconds’ than desktop ads.

But they get attention in a very particular way, with major implications for advertisers.

‘Attention seconds’ are a combination of two factors: did anyone see the ad at all, and how long did they look at it for? If 50% of people notice a viewable ad for on average 1 second, then you get 500 seconds of attention for every 1000 viewable impressions that you buy. 30% noticing an ad for 2 seconds will get you 600 seconds from every 1000 viewable impressions and so on. Getting noticed at all is important, but dwell time with the ad is also vital.

Our research suggests that mobile ads are very good at being noticed – 78% get seen in some way, which compares to just 17% for desktop. But they get looked at for slightly less time on average: 1.0 second, rather than 1.5 seconds for desktop.

When you, multiply the percentage who notice the ad by the average time they spend actually looking at the ad to create the ‘attention seconds per 000 impressions’ you see that mobile ads are so much more noticeable that in aggregate, a thousand impressions will get you 7.2 minutes of attention, whereas desktop ads will only get you 2.1 minutes of attention.

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Another way of saying the same thing is to look at the ‘attention curves’ of the two media. Yes, mobile ads are much more noticeable, but the decay in the attention curve shows that the vast majority of the ads get less than a second of attention. The decay in the curve for desktop ads is less pronounced, meaning that if people notice the ads at all they stay with them for a bit longer.

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Now, averages hide as much as they reveal. Many of the mobile formats that we have picked up in our studies are tiny, whereas some of the desktop formats are huge. Luckily, there are formats that are common to both devices such as MPUs. When you compare like with like, the results give a clear view of the impact of device. 1000 MPUs on desktop is likely to get you 2.0 minutes of attention in total. 1000 MPUs on mobile is likely to get you 8.8 minutes in total, an increase of 4.5 times.

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Our research suggests that mobile advertising is great at getting at least some attention. This stands to reason: the ads often fill the screen, and you have to scroll pass them to get to the next bit of content. But it also suggests that many people are scrolling so fast that they are barely looking at the ads at all. They pass in a blur – glanced at, rather than fully consumed.

The implications for advertisers are profound.

Mobile is a great way to get noticed, and the money that is going into the channel is not wasted. A pound or dollar spent on mobile is probably better spent than on desktop.

But you have to get the creative right. Attention budgets on mobile seem to be even shorter than they are for desktop. We often tell our clients that they have to ‘think like a poster’ and design digital ads that can be consumed quickly and efficiently. That seems to be doubly true on mobile.

Or, you have to buy some attention. Some sites, and some formats, are simply better than getting noticed than others. Buying big bold formats, and filling them with big bold creative, is probably the best way to deliver against the promise of mobile.

And- shameless plug - we can help you do both at Lumen.