The Problem with Viewability
And why measuring attention is more important.
Let’s do an experiment: Watch the following video and count how many times the players in the white shirts pass the basketball? (Note: Fifty percent of people fail this test.)
Did you count correctly? Because that wasn’t the test. The real test is if you noticed the person in the gorilla suit walk across the frame as the two teams are weaving in and out of each other and passing the balls around. Half of the people who watch the video are too consumed with counting the number of passes that they never see the gorilla — even though the gorilla stops in the middle of the shot, turns to the camera and beats its chest for a moment.
The video was created 20 years ago by two cognitive psychologists to illustrate the phenomenon of selective attention or “inattentional blindness,” how our minds filter out certain stimuli when concentrating on a specific task. We might see something with our eyes, but our minds don’t register it.
And it’s a perfect metaphor for the current state of the digital advertising industry. We’ve become so obsessed with viewability that we’ve lost sight (pun intended) of what really matters: Whether an ad actually grabs a consumer’s attention.
Viewability is an important measurement tool, but its benefits only go so far. The next evolution of advertising measurement is gauging whether an ad actually captured the consumer’s attention.
By tapping into attention signals, marketers are gleaning deeper into insights into their advertising and are able to optimize their campaigns like never before. Marketers can measure how a consumer physically interacted with an ad, and use those signals to determine how attentive the consumer was when watching the ad.
They can determine if the creative was captivating, or if the ad was placed at the right spot on the page. If the ad is in the right context or targeted at the right consumer segment.
As the famous gorilla suit experiment shows, viewability itself is ultimately meaningless. Things can be right in front of our faces, but if we’re not tuned in, it doesn’t make a difference.
What we really want in advertising is not to be “seen,” but to be remembered. And the only way to determine that is to measure attention.