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Google Study Explores the Multiple Dimensions of Attention to Advertising

Effectiveness found to be determined by high attention using various measures.

September 24, 2020 – A recent study conducted by MediaScience with Google used a variety of measures to differentiate between high attention and inattention ads, ultimately proving that high attention ads can be predictive of sales and brand awareness. The results indicated that various measures are essential to evaluating attention and its nuances.

The study was led by the CEO of MediaScience, Duane Varan, and Nicole Hartnett, the Senior Marketing Scientist at Ehrenberg- Bass Institute at University of South Australia. Rachel Kennedy, Steve Bellman, and Virginia Beal of Ehrenberg-Bass and Claire Charron from Google also participated in the research.

The core research team planned to investigate attention and how it is measured and to find “robust scalable measures of attention, specifically of attention to advertising.”

The research consisted of two distinct phases. The first phase of the project was conducted in 2019, and it included the presentation of 3-5 minute video ads that induced the state the research team wanted to measure: high attention or inattention. This led the team to heavily investigate inattention in the second phase, as attention itself is more complex and nuanced compared to the “highly definable and highly measurable inattention.”

The second phase of research had participants view 10 ads (5 of inattention and 5 high attention) accompanied by 20 filler ads throughout an hour of television watching. Baseline and threshold measures were implemented to create classifications for attention or inattention. The research team connected sensors to the participants and utilized 12 biometric signatures to measure attention including, heart rate, eye tracking, skin conductance, facial expression, and EEG. The team collected physiological responses, self-reported surveys on attention, and additional brand metrics regarding memory and attitude.

The analyses of the psychological data showed that the measures “could reliably discriminate our inattention ads from high attention ads,” high attention is indicative of headroom lift and ad effectiveness, and that the appropriate signature to use may depend on the nature of the ad. The study found that some measures were more responsive to certain tactics than others, and supports the use of using a toolbox approach for further research because of the multidimensional nature of attention.

Hartnett claimed that “In the real world, people are not close to paying full attention to advertising” and for future research, proposed a replication of the study in a distracted viewing environment. This would promote the usefulness of the attention signatures as the distinctions between inattention and high attention would be starker. The research team also suggested that attention be measured with experiments that manipulate the presence and frequency of creative devices and tactics seen in ads.