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‘For OOH, attention metrics are good news’

By Rajiv Raghunath - August 29, 2022

Prof. Karen Nelson-Field, Founder and CEO, Amplified Intelligence shares her insights on the attention economy and what it can do for OOH, in an interview with Rajiv Raghunath. Edited excerpts:

Prof. Karen Nelson-Field, Founder and CEO, Amplified Intelligence, is a globally acclaimed researcher in media science. She is a regular speaker on the major circuits, including Cannes and SXSW, and has secured research funding from some of the world’s largest advertisers. Her first book ‘Viral Marketing: the science of sharing’ set the record straight on hunting for ‘viral success’. Her most recent book ‘The Attention Economy and How Media Works’ explains the stark reality of human attention to advertising.

Her research has been noted in The NY Times, Bloomberg Business, CNBC, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and AdAge. She has a regular column ‘Attention Revolution’ with Mediatel News. Karen’s commercial work combines tech and innovative methodological design to build attention measurement and insight products to guide the industry through a disrupting digital economy.

Karen shares her insights on the attention economy and what it can do for OOH, in an interview with Rajiv Raghunath. Edited excerpts:

Prof. Karen Nelson-Field, Founder & CEO<br>Amplified IntelligenceThe attention economy has stemmed from the digital explosion seen worldwide, and the metrics of the attention economy are also largely aligned with the digital media. However, brands, and media planners and buyers are all looking at multiple media channels to gain a fair share of attention. In your view, how does a media channel like OOH/DOOH stack up in this fast evolving attention economy?

It’s interesting that you say ‘fair share of attention’ because fairness is what started my journey into audience measurement. The industry is increasingly fragmented. The number of ads, ad formats and media types - all with different user experiences - is increasing exponentially.

Advertisers are battling inattention and traditional measures, such as ad impressions, no longer work. Our attention to ads is not sustained, we are easily distracted, continually switching our attention from one thing to another.

Different media environments, platforms and formats display different amounts of switching, which means they all deliver different amounts of attention to advertising. These differences undermine the relativity of an ad impression because the ad impression is not offering equal reach.

For the world of OOH, attention metrics are good news. Amplified is currently working with QMS Media in Australia on a world first OOH attention study to measure the amount and type of attention that OOH receives. With the results we will be able to explore the relationship between attention to OOH and memory retention, brand choice and growth. Focusing on street furniture, the results from this study will be released in Australia later this year.

Human attention is a very complex subject to deal with. You have said this in your writings. So, would it at all be possible to develop any common audience metrics for a media like OOH/DOOH where each ad unit would have so many variables of its own?

Perhaps the most valuable thing about attention is that it is a human-centred measurement. By being human-focused it remains resilient. Devices and platforms keep changing and, let’s face it, ultimately outdoor environments will change. Once the number of electric vehicles reaches a certain point, the streets will be quieter. Advertising needs to attract human attention and that won’t change in our lifetimes.

I agree, collecting attention metrics for OOH is more complex than for mobile and TV, but with innovative R&D, rigorous methodology and a commitment to fair comparisons it can be done. We have loved the challenge here at Amplified.

The highest quality attention data is collected from natural viewing environments. Every new environment Amplified Intelligence collects strengthens attention as a key metric for advertisers. It informs media vendors on how to improve their environments for the maximum high quality human attention.

This is what is so exciting about our recent feasibility study with QMS Media in Australia. Its main objective is to improve understanding and confidence in OOH for the planning and execution of campaigns. When the role and value of any advertising environment becomes clear and comparable, its place in the media mix becomes more certain.

The work we do at Amplified Intelligence is about providing powerful and transparent media metrics that allow the comparison of very different media environments because that is the reality that brand and campaign managers are dealing with. Using human attention metrics to evaluate the value and relative performance of OOH advertising places OOH in a powerful position.

Give us a brief introduction of Amplified Intelligence, and what inspired you to taking this initiative forward?

I started Amplified Intelligence in 2017 as a research agency having left the academic life to pursue my own business at a faster pace than universities could offer. I could see a big media industry problem looming - its currency was failing. The metrics supplied by big publishers are both opaque and non-transparent, and it means that advertisers don't know the value of one media environment over the other. Yet they blindly pay the same price for an ad impression.

I knew we needed technology to capture what matters to advertisers - human attention. My PhD was in audience measurement so I knew what to build but I’m not a developer. I pulled together a tiny tech team and we built facial detection technology into an app system that can collect human attention in real-time, and at scale, on any publisher, in any country. We collected data across six countries initially and answered some important research questions for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Over time it became clear that research and insights are incredibly important, but to really shift the behaviour and actions of an industry we would need to build products that drive that change. At the end of 2019 we started our pivot to designing and building attention to advertising Saas products for the media and advertising industry.

Now we have attentionPLAN® for planning media campaigns including the ability to provide Attention Adjusted® recommendations for both forward planning and retrospectively. We are also in the closed alpha stage of testing attentionTRADE® for media buying using attention as a trading signal.

What inspired me initially and what inspires us as a company is this: We believe that media trading should be fair and accountable.

In this era of integrated communications, and omnichannel marketing, how much of your work and offerings is contributing to the development of standard, cross-cutting metrics for different media channels on audience attention?

Change takes time and industry standards take even longer. Our underlying belief that media trading should be fair and accountable can only be achieved with high quality omnichannel measurement. I talk regularly about the standards that the attention measurement industry will need to achieve this.

  1. Models powered by human attention data. Seems obvious, but the industry’s love affair with device data is not over yet. Only human data can tell a human story. Even though we collect directly from human panels, more than 20% of collected views that have viewability markers ticked have zero attention paid to the ad.
  2. Human data collected in a privacy safe manner. We need to respect the people who are participating in the data collection. That means meaningful opt in and out for collection participants, plus data security and retention policies. We have an ethical responsibility to recruit a fully informed panel whose data is protected and respected.
  3. Human attention data collected in a natural environment. This means real platforms and environments, passive cameras and calibration free so that data collection happens with all of the normal daily interruptions. People behave un-naturally (and concentrate harder) in unfamiliar environments.
  4. The gaze estimation must be accurate. Gaze estimation reveals where a person is looking and accuracy relies on extensive training data to train a model. Young models or models without ongoing access to facial footage will be less accurate. They need to be continually improved from a stream of varied data.
  5. Meaningful models must be proved to be consistent across boundary conditions. When a baseline holds over a range of conditions, it can then be used predictively and at scale.

Finally, is consumer distraction a growing challenge for brands and advertisers, and is there a way to get around that?

Both the media landscape and human attention are becoming increasingly fragmented, and yes, this is a challenge for brands and advertisers. But there is also an enormous potential for improvement in how advertising is delivered, regardless of the state of human attention spans.

We know from our research that platforms, formats and environments have an Attention Elasticity range. A poorer performing media environment has an upper limit to the amount of attention it can offer, which means that even good creative can’t perform well. We have also discovered that there are systematic viewing clusters that describe the differences in how people view media - we call these Shapes of Attention. It shifts us from the simple observation of, “Are they looking?’ to understanding how they are looking. These Shapes show us that it’s possible to choose different types of attention for different purposes.

What attention metrics can do is teach publishers how to improve the attention performance of their formats, and teach advertisers how to choose the right type of attention for what they are trying to achieve. Different Shapes of Attention work better in different parts of the sales funnel. For creative teams, attention metrics can help them build effective creative for different attention environments.

People will always be distracted by life and not necessarily that interested in advertising. Respecting what little attention is available and working hard to produce high quality ads in high quality environments - that’s a worthwhile challenge.

 

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