Pay (For) Attention

Forgive me but today I’m going to start by reverting to examples from my past life in agencies. Remember paying a premium to be on a right-hand page within a magazine? Or to be first in break in the first break in the heavily promoted new TV drama? Or to be the last ad shown before the movie starts in the cinema?

Why did we do that? (Please resist the temptation to write to me to say ‘I never paid a premium for anything, ever.’)

Well, obviously it was because we believed in the importance of stand-out. Or, to put it another way because we knew we had more chance attracting the consumer’s attention by being in those positions.

We didn’t need data – indeed (to take the magazine example) what data there was via the old reading and noting scores showed precious little difference between right-hand and left-hand pages. Yet we all paid more for RH, because we ‘just knew’. Sometimes we rambled on about logos disappearing into the gutter, but mainly we ‘just knew’.

The truth was it was a matter of supply and demand. Everyone wanted RH (everyone ‘just knew’), so the publisher charged more. Same with first in break – although in this case as has been pointed out to me by several eminent TV researchers there was some data squirreled away that supported the theory that audiences declined throughout the middle stages of a commercial break.

This week Magnetic, the trade organisation for the UK magazine industry held their annual Spark conference.

The session I attended featured Mike Follett from Lumen, Anna Sampson Magnetic’s Head of Research and Insight and Mike Florence, CSO at PHD, chaired by Dominic Mills.

You can view the session (and indeed the rest of the Spark event) here.

Lumen has done good work on how to optimise ads (and I can imagine, editorial layout) in magazines, the major findings from which indicate that aside from anything else arresting content is key to attracting an audience to ads surrounding it, and that as a medium, magazines are consumed online at a slower pace than social media platforms.

Presumably because it takes longer to read arresting content than it does to scroll through random content (the reality of ‘precision targeting’ is still nowhere near the promise).

Mike Florence made the point that agency contracts slow the progress towards attention becoming a key planning metric.

He was referencing contracts with clients, not spend commitments made by his group traders to particular vendors.

What was strange was Mike discussing contracts as if they were things that happened to him, as opposed to happening with his input and involvement. He did go on to say that many client contracts happen at group level, which although it makes things harder must surely be a process over which as CSO he has some influence.

He also sought to lay some blame for this state of affairs on the auditors. His argument went – we are contractually bound into delivering a price as judged by the client-appointed auditor.

I hold no candle whatsoever for the old-fashioned price driven media auditors but blaming them for a clause within a globally negotiated contract agreed by the agency seems harsh.

I suspect, but of course cannot prove that a larger issue with building attention metrics into planning comes with squaring off group trading deals.

I’m with Mike (Florence) in seeing some progress as price became less of a differentiator, although to be fair this point has been made many times over the years and so far hasn’t been proved correct.

But the ambition must be that factors like attention become more significant in media execution.

Hopefully, the good work done by trade bodies like Magnetic (and there’s a lot of it about) feeds though into the trading policies of individual magazines. After all, negotiations involve two parties. Someone has to make the first move.

Attention is a key metric, it always was. It’s just that now we have far more proof, served up in a way that has the potential to influence how agencies plan, and indeed buy.

  1. I think auditors are a key element in this Brian. Whilst at the Standard many years ago I asked Paul Thomas why he went in Metro when it was unbelievably cluttered with ads (as a result of its success) and his answer was ‘I’m rewarded on audit performance and auditors don’t measure clutter so I don’t care’. Price of everything, value of nothing!

  2. A sorry system of affairs but why not speak to the client about why he was measuring the wrong thing?

  3. A sorry *STATE* of affairs…

  4. I’m pretty convinced that right hand pages were considered more ‘valuable’ because most of us are right handed but would turn the page left handed and therefore expose the right hand page to our view first thus giving an ad on that page the first opportunity to grab attention and (maybe) hold it.
    In the case of TV the introduction of metered viewing meant that each ad was allocated its own rating (as opposed to an overall break rating) so if audiences declined during the break (thanks to the new fangled remote control thingy) your CPT would be potentially lower than it would have been had you paid a fixed rate for any position in the break. It would also get you closer to your overall ratings delivery target more quickly and was ‘worth’ paying a premium for. And the more you spent of course, the greater your commission.
    Whether or not greater attention was also delivered was debateable.

  5. Thanks Richard.
    Not sure I buy the left hand v right hand argument. I suspect the whole thing was a construct anyway.
    On TV, I think you’re assuming a lot to reckon that the average TV buyer knew a whole lot about the agency’s contractual arrangements with clients!

  6. It’s an interesting debate Brian, and one that has gone on for more years than we care to remember! At Newsworks, we’ve done quite a bit of work on this, also with Mike @Lumen. More recently Using RAMetrics – and over 1,200 ads, almost evenly split between RH and LF – there was a slight recall advantage for RH ads – about an 11% uplift in recall. RH ads performed better on all engagement measures – but perhaps not as much as people think. But you can’t just take position, size also matters. Whilst FP ads get almost equal recall left v right, strip ads do better on the right. To a point in one of your other pieces Brian, the world is not binary.

  7. Thanks Denise – and as you say this one has run and run!
    There’s also cause and effect – the biggest agencies representing the biggest clients argue for RH, so the ‘best’ ads finish up on RH sites. Although whether the biggest clients inevitably deliver the best ads is a very moot point!
    And for those pedants amongst the Cog Blog audience, I know you meant LH, not LF!

  8. Thanks Brian – and thanks for correcting my typo – I can spell well, but type much less well 🙂

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