What evolution teaches us about designing for digital

Measuring the success of a digital campaign can be challenging and often limiting, says Georgia Woodburne. In Australia in particular, there remains an over-reliance on measuring viewability.

Georgia Woodburne 150 BWWhile viewability measurement is of course helpful for showing us that an ad has been seen, it is no longer fit for purpose as the industry default. Brands now expect more information about the impact ads have on audiences, and advertising needs to update its metrics to reflect that.

In response to this, IAB Australia has outlined plans to conduct a full review of audience and cross-media measurement in order to create a new series of guidelines and best practice for advertisers. While the results of this initiative are still a ways off, whatever the IAB decides, there is already research available illustrating the effectiveness of alternative measurement methods.

Focusing on attention, for instance, is a much better barometer for analysing the impact that ads have on audiences. Data from Lumen Research illustrates how longer view time enhances audience recall. For example, while only 35% of users were able to recall an advertised brand after 0-1 seconds of visual engagement, this rose to 50% after 1-2 seconds engagement.

This is very useful information to have – using it to our advantage is a little more complex, however. In Australia, not only are websites overcrowded with ads, but over a third of us are using ad blocking tools. As a result, getting people to look at advertising at all – let alone for over a second – is getting increasingly difficult.

But is there a way for brands to strike a balance between drawing attention to their ads, and remaining unobtrusive? If so, what’s the best way to do this?

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Back to basics

The answer might lie in a regularly overlooked human trait – our penchant for pattern recognition. 

Storing and sorting images by shape, size, colour and context is how we can tell a cat from a table, or a desk lamp from a ceiling fan. Thanks to our evolutionary roots, this skill is innate to all humans. Simply put, the cavemen who couldn’t recognise the difference between poisonous and safe-to-eat berries did not tend to pass on their genes.

In the modern world, we’re more likely to use visual pattern recognition to read words, understand language and recognise people’s faces, but the principles of the skill remain the same. This in-built ability is a gift for attention seeking brands, because it means they can rely on certain reactions when presenting audiences with visual prompts that appeal to this subconscious drive. For advertisers looking to maximise attention, it is as far ‘back to basics’ as it is possible to go.

In Inskin’s own investigation, we found that digital campaigns featuring individual ads that looked similar to each other attracted 170% more attention from viewers than those with ads that looked different (which saw an uplift of just 3%). By prompting audiences to mentally group similar ads together, brands give themselves far more attention to work with. 

New media, old tricks

This tactic of deploying creatively in-sync campaigns, or ‘matching luggage’, is not a new concept, and indeed was highly popular among TV advertising up until 15 years ago. As digital media rose to prominence and new tools allowed brands and agencies to experiment with more creativity, the number of campaigns using this approach dropped significantly.

With research linking creative cohesion across different ad formats to attention levels, however, it’s obvious this technique has bigger implications for modern advertising than is currently being used. 

The potential impact it could have within digital display specifically, is huge. 

Currently, just 12% of served digital ads ever are seen, and only 4% looked at for one second or more.

And that’s not only due to people’s own apathy towards ads, but also because of competition in the space, with even moderate levels of ad clutter shown to decrease visual engagement time.

As such, any methods we can use to increase attention must be given due consideration.   

Digital-first creative planning

The benefits of adopting one cohesive creative template for a single campaign also makes the case for digital creativity becoming a higher priority. Cannes Lions currently does not recognise this important process in its awards line up, but we must push it up the agenda.

Digital advertising is too often an afterthought, assembled from the select bits and pieces of advertisements made for other formats. But with creatively coherent campaigns proving to be more successful, there should be renewed interest in creating for digital first, to better capture those extra split seconds needed to make that all important impact.

Finding ways to increase the attention potential of standard ads using techniques that don’t require increased budgets could help lift both short- and long-term profitability of digital ad spend. Brands that can internalise this and have it inform their planning process will find they’re soon reaping the rewards.

Georgia Woodburne is Australian general manager at Inskin Media

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