Dentsu's new attention trading tool aims to 'clean up the clutter' on digital sites

Dentsu: optimising digital advertising based on effective attention
Dentsu: optimising digital advertising based on effective attention

The media group allows clients to optimise digital advertising spend on sites that produce the most effective attention, which could punish sites that are jam-packed with ad units.

Dentsu UK & Ireland has rolled out a real-time trading and measurement solution that optimises effective attention of a target audience to advertising.

The media planning and buying group had previously traded against attention, but has evolved its solution from treating all digital media attention equally, to a granular offering that takes into account the media setting, screen size, length of attention and contextual relevance.

The product, which Dentsu claims is an industry first, is grounded in an understanding that the value of attention varies in different digital circumstances, and can be applied across programmatic and social platforms. Clients of its agencies, which include Carat, iProspect, Dentsu X and Merkel, will be able to offer clients the new service, but it will not be mandatory.

Called, Effective Attention Forecasting, the tool puts into practice the findings of its multiyear, global research programme The Attention Economy, and is being delivered in collaboration with eye-tracking technology specialists Lumen.

It uses a predictive model that considers the characteristics of an ad, such as the size of an ad or player, the platform and device on which it’s viewed, the percentage and duration of the ad in view, whether the sound is on and other factors to predict the likely attention being paid to it and whether it will drive brand recall and/or choice.  

The tool can be used to measure attention quality across ads served programmatically and on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snap. It allows for campaigns to be automatically attention optimised programmatically, while manual adjustments can be made to optimise campaigns that live in the walled gardens of tech platforms.

Katie Hartley, managing director of product and innovation at Dentsu Data Labs, told Campaign that testing of the new attention forecasting tool for a Co-op campaign, which measured the short-term effect on sales, brand recall and brand choice, found a 27% lift in recall, 11% lift in consideration and 21% lift on the perception of value against a control.

“We wanted to evolve our attention trading optimisation tool to move to a place where we are sure that an ad is going to be seen for long enough in order for it to be effective,” she said. 

We know there is a huge variance in the effect of attention and different media settings. For example, a forced video view generally will deliver greater volumes of attention, but actually if someone chooses to watch that ad, then each second of that voluntary view versus each second of a forced view is much more powerful.”

Hartley said the social media platforms have “been on the journey” with Dentsu to help the agency group get a better understanding of attention within their walled gardens “even though the main winners from this are probably publishers”.

A clutter-free ad environment

In fact, if Dentsu’s focus on attention gains wider traction across the market, it is hoped that it will encourage publishers to produce clutter-free advertising environments that score much higher when it comes to effective attention.

“Generally, we've seen publishers that make the user experience really clean and nice benefit most from this. So the ones that allow readers to be there for the content and with lovely, clean ad formats, rather than being jam-packed with ad units – that doesn't deliver good attention,” Hartley said.

“The publishers that are behaving in the right way and doing those things, are going to receive good attention in our open market optimisations; they will, therefore, be selling more ads to us.”

This could pose a dilemma for certain publishers known for overloading newsbrand sites with scores of attention-seeking ad units.

For Hamish Nicklin, CEO, media at Dentsu UK&I – a former chief executive of The Guardian – encouraging digital media to clean up its act will benefit everyone in the broader media and advertising ecosystem.

“That's one of the reasons why we started doing all of this five years ago, way before I joined you. Back then, I was a very noisy publisher going, look, you guys aren't paying attention. Clients, advertisers, agencies, you're not paying attention to the context and environment, and the care that we put into our reader experience. It's not right and hyper-targeting doesn't take that into account,” Nicklin said.

“As well as just being genuinely pissed off with terrible user experiences around some sites across the internet, this can't be right for our advertisers. And that's what really drove this. 

“We would love to see the death of those terrible pages, and the creation of a much better experience for readers and users across the internet. The publishers win because they don't have to power loads of ads on their page, the readers win because they get good experiences, and advertisers win because we know that attention leads to outcomes.”

Nicklin said using the new attention tool has not driven inflation or brought an increase in CPMs, it’s just shifted where advertising budgets are being spent.

His message to publishers is simple: “If your site doesn't have effective attention, you're less likely to have a lot of our ads served against it. Whereas if you have effective attention, you are going to get the majority of the budget in that respect.”

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