TV Advertisers, Stop Worrying About Attention Measurement
parents and child watching tv offscreen

You want to know who worries about attention measurement? The programmatic ad buyers who have no idea where their digital ads are being shown.

You know who has to prove the quality of their ad inventory with attention measurement? The digital publishers who are auto-playing their videos and burying their fifth display slot a mile below the fold.

But do you know who doesn’t have to worry about attention measurement? The buyers and sellers of TV advertising. Whether it’s traditional live TV or streaming live or VOD (collectively, convergent TV), these are flat-out the most attentive places on all advertising-supported media.

Attention is the old solution

Attention was a big solution to a major problem of viewability and fraud for digital. But  convergent TV—with its premium programming and non-skippable ads—starts from a place of very high viewability and negligible fraud. Look at the data: The attention scores are high and do not vary much. Makes sense.

So, why talk about it? Because attention measurement for TV is the misapplication of the wrong lessons from digital’s problems. Convergent TV doesn’t have digital’s baggage, and the fact that it’s a topic du jour should be worrying, because it means various (often self-interested) voices are distracting us from the marketer’s brass ring: Measuring and maximizing the outcomes that advertising is driving. Those outcomes, whether emotions, behaviors or sales, are ultimately what every marketer is trying to achieve, right?

Sounds obvious, but the reason it hasn’t become a dominant practice until now is the lingering shortcomings of the technology that TV used to approximate its value, premised entirely on reach. For most of the first 130 years of the consumer economy, dating back to Procter & Gamble’s creation of Ivory Soap in 1879, the gap between the advertisements a consumer saw and what the consumer eventually bought was so wide as to be unbridgeable.

Producers of branded goods and services had no direct access to consumers. Survey research could provide clues about whether the advertising was memorable or likable enough to translate into sales, but the science was inexact. The most reliable correlation between an ad and its effect remained volume—reach, in traditional industry parlance.

Why attention doesn’t quite work

Today, “reach” is being semantically recast as “attention,” but it’s really a variation on the same old thing. So, if an advertiser is paying to reach 1 million consumers across their TV media plan this week, they’d better be getting that attention. However, the measurement debates haven’t really been honest methodological deliberations the past several decades but, rather, extended price negotiations.

Amid all the haggling, few are grappling with TV advertising’s existential dilemma: Buyers and sellers alike don’t really know what’s working. If you want to know what’s working, you need strong signals of outcome.

Conventional reach and attention metrics are very weak signals, compounded often by small samples or panels that can’t cope with the scale and complexity of convergent TV. They don’t enable participants to compare and judge the relative effectiveness of different audience targets, networks, programs or dayparts, as well as various creative executions on different segments of audience that are just as important.

You’d expect live sports to have a lot higher attention than always-on cable news, but there’s not much difference. You might think shows that are on during the middle of the day, when people are busy with work from home or making lunch, have lower attention than prime time. But that’s not the case, either. The percentage of people paying attention all hover within a fairly narrow band. Try to drill down and the data is too sparse. It can’t help make decisions.

Focus on outcomes

Meanwhile, do you know who else isn’t worried (and certainly don’t feel pressured to talk about) attention? The Googles and Amazons of the world that are increasingly asking for—and getting—convergent TV budgets. Why? Because they are making the complex simple. Want more searches, site visits, app downloads, conversions or sales? Then they will automatically maximize those outcomes. Who cares about reach when you’re getting outcomes? Attention? It’s a given.

That is the lesson advertisers should be applying from digital advertising: The ability to understand and maximize effectiveness in real time. Convergent TV can be like that, too.

The new-to-TV tactic that advertisers can use to maximize results is measuring the real-time effectiveness of their ad creatives. But it’s critical to focus on scaled data like search, web visits and app usage that can handle the statistical rigor required to break down the influences of audience, media and creative.

Then, and only then, can advertisers get closer to the true potential value of the convergence of digital and TV that is upon us.

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