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Excessive focus on attention metric for TV could lead to “race to the bottom”, warns analyst

Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director, at Thinkbox believes there is a potential danger in focusing excessively on attention as a metric for TV advertising. During a panel discussion at TV in Focus: 2022, he argued that measuring attention for TV ads may not take stock of low attention processing, where viewers might not be looking at the screen but are invested in the audio and storytelling of the ad. Joining him on the panel, Kate Waters - Director of Client Strategy and Planning at ITV – argued that advertisers need to be wary of the wastage that can occur when targeting “incredibly tightly” such that ads appear to viewers who were already going to purchase.

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“We’re seeing attention [as a metric] coming to TV and I’m excited but terrified,” said Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director at Thinkbox, during a panel discussion at TV in Focus: 2022, in London.

He continued: “Attention is measured by where people are looking, but it misses out on audio and storytelling power. It misses out on low attention processing – where people are doing something else but humming along with a jingle. If we take it too far it could be a race to the bottom.”

Despite his concerns, Hill remarked that, in general, focus on attention as a metric is positive and he believes there is significant evidence supporting the relationship between attention and ad effectiveness. He argues that the real need for an attention metric came from the online world where exposure to an ad is not an adequate proxy for effectiveness. While JIC (joint industry committee) currency data serves well for advertisers’ purposes for TV, integration with the online world requires additional metrics.

Hill also raised questions about the value of digital targeted advertising in every instance, and whether it can always justify the higher costs associated with digital channels over traditional ones.

He said: “When you look at the raw costs of those channels – the newer digital equivalents of older, more traditional media channels – the raw CPM cost is very high. In some instances, you have to assess whether the targeting or the creative personalisation on offer [on digital] that’s not on offer on traditional channels, actually does get you passed the digital divide, in terms of cost.”

He was joined on the panel by Kate Waters, Director of Client Strategy and Planning at ITV, Richard Kirk, Chief Strategy Officer at Zenith and Gareth George, Group Head of Media at RVU (Confused.com, Uswitch, Zoopla).

Waters remarked that advertisers should be wary of the wastage that can occur when campaigns are targeted “incredibly tightly” such that ads appear to viewers who were already going to purchase from the brand.

She said: “When you get incredibly tightly targeted campaigns, what incremental value are you adding? That’s the balance we’re trying to get right. We’re looking for proper incremental value and being harsh on ourselves when measuring that impact.”

George described the mind shift that advertisers who are used to direct performance data need to go undergo as they begin incorporating TV into their media plan.

He noted that adequate measurement is an important step along this process: “Measurement is core. As soon as you can start building that equity with [a brand’s] c-suite and saying ‘this is what was done historically and therefore this is what we’re going to model going forward’, it becomes a much more collaborative relationship and they’re far more willing to invest money in the recommendations you make.”

George also spoke about the pressure on some media owners to develop innovative new ad formats. He said: “Some media owners are getting a kicking when the attention data has come out and their formats aren’t performing well.”

Despite the demand for new, innovative ad formats, George highlighted the difficulties with executing them at scale and the associated costs. He said: “If something is four times the cost, it has to work four times as hard. There’s always demand to do innovative things and cut through to the audience, but it’s about whether you can afford to do it or not.”

He registered his belief that the (single screen) QR code ad format could potentially become very widespread.

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