Why pay for an ad that’s half exposed? Dr Karen Nelson-Field explains why visibility is king


“I have been offered money from TV owners to say things before and I have said no,” says professor Karen Nelson-Field as she takes to the stage for Think TV. Behind her a slideshow presentation displays the findings from her research looking into the cut through and memorability of ads.

Professor Karen Nelson-Field

The research involved examining viewing behaviour across TV, YouTube and Facebook and analysing buying habits of audiences exposed to ads.

Generating attention

The first step was assessing the attention ads get across the different platforms.

It’s a particularly important function to measure as Nelson-Field points out: “Before consumers can be affected by advertising messages, they need to first be paying attention.”

The research found in an average second, TV commands 58 percent attention, which is higher than the other platforms. And while that 58 percent is a combination of active and passive viewing, looking at active viewing alone, TV has nearly twice that of YouTube and 15 times that of Facebook.

However, Nelson-Field points out 58 percent attention still leaves a significant amount of time that viewers are not paying attention.

Image from Professor Nelson-Field’s presentation

It was also found Facebook has a higher passive viewing rate than TV, with 94 percent compared to 40 percent. While Nelson-Field says passive viewing plays a role in attention, it’s not as effective as active viewing.

“At the end of the day, we don’t love our ads, but we pay more attention to some than we do others.”

Why? she asks – because attention increases with pixels and not all ads are displayed equally.

Anything below 100 percent pixels means diminished attention and sales Nelson-Field says, pointing out TV is the only platform with 100 percent pixels and 100 percent coverage for 100 percent of the time.

Scroll down Facebook and you’ll be bombarded with a collection of content competing for attention, and within that is ads.

Unfortunately for the ads, the research found on average ads cover only 10 percent of the screen on Facebook when viewed on a computer – meaning 90 percent of the screen is “competing clutter” Nelson-Field says.

For YouTube viewed on a computer, there’s an increase to 30 percent coverage, and again, the remaining 70 percent could divert eyes away.

On mobile, coverage for both platforms improves, with Facebook jumping to 27 percent coverage while YouTube increases to 32 percent.

And while it is possible for the ads to reach 100 percent coverage by viewers rotating their phones horizontally, the research observed only 0.01 percent of Facebook users do this for ads while 14 percent of YouTube users do this.

“Who sees an ad and flips it to horizontal?” asks Nelson-Field.

Image from Professor Nelson-Field’s presentation

Raising the standards

Not helping ads competing for attention with content sitting around them is the definition of a view. According to IAB US and MRC (Media Rating Council), which set the international standard, “50 percent of pixels must be viewable + two seconds of page duration” is considered a view of a video.

For a standard display, the definition of a view is: “50 percent of pixels must be viewable + one second of page duration.”

Despite being an international standard, not all agree with the definitions and according to IAB NZ, a number of advertisers and their media agencies have agreed on their own requirements such as 70 percent or 80 percent of display advertisement to be seen for at least five seconds.

“Why pay for an ad that’s half exposed?” asks Nelson-Field.

The greater the attention, the greater the sales

With attention measured, the research moved to look at the impact attention has, by measuring STAS (short-term advertising strength).

This used discrete choice modelling by directing those being observed to a virtual store set up that asked them to make a selection. A STAS score was generating by dividing those who selected the product and saw the ad by those who selected the product but did not see the ad.

TV delivered the highest STAS with a score of 144, compared to Facebook’s 118 and YouTube’s 116.

It’s worth noting anything over 100 has an impact, meaning all platforms have an impact, even when ads were only passively viewed.

Image from Professor Nelson-Field’s presentation

When looking at STAS according to pixels and time, there is a significant uplift in sales if online videos are played for longer than two seconds with more than 50 percent pixels.

And looking at how the STAS translates to long-term results through ads displayed on mobile, TV on comes out on top as Facebook decays 2.5 times faster than it and YouTube decays three times faster.

According to Nelson-Field, this means TV takes nine times longer to decay to zero impact point than online.

Looking at TV alone, TV viewed on a TV has the slowest decay rate, at -0.4, meaning it takes 109 days to lose its impact. Meanwhile, TV on a tablet has the greatest decay rate at -4.3.

Image from Professor Nelson-Field’s presentation

Go for reach over frequency

The examination of STAS also revealed the first view of an ad has the greatest impact meaning repeated viewing does not drive greater results.

It’s a finding that goes against the convention that frequency should be prioritised over reach and to explain why, Nelson-Field says: “Advertising is not persuasive, so you can’t push someone to buy something they weren’t in a category to buy.”

“If you are paying the same amount for the second hit, the impact isn’t the same.”

Here, she refers to Les Binet’s and Peter Field’s research on brand building, that shows 60:40 is the optimum balance of brand and activation expenditure.

Making an impact in six seconds

While the definition of a view for online video is “50 percent of pixels must viewable + two seconds of page duration”, YouTube has its own standard of sorts, allowing the audience to skip some pre-roll ads after six seconds.

It’s a function that may limit a creative’s ability to take the audience on a journey but Nelson-Field says the time doesn’t have to limit the impact.

“You can still have an impact at five or six seconds, it just has to be well branded and upfront.”

She adds the idea that having the branding front and centre will annoy people is a myth.

“… the reality is overt branding doesn’t impact how you feel about the band.”

To explain this, Nelson-Field uses a Geico ad that played as a pre-roll on YouTube. In the middle of the ad was Geico’s label and behind it, a scene of a family pausing mid-dinner time as if the ad was over and about to be cut.

It won a Grand Prix at Cannes for its humour, creative use of a pre-roll ad and blatant use of the branding.

It’s that placement of the Geico logo in the middle that Nelson-Field says was genius and made it such a functional ad.

Is TV the be all and end all?

Not only is the Geico ad a demonstration of the power of a few seconds of attention, it also shows TV is not a must-have for brands.

While TV’s reach gives it brand-building power, alongside the emotion it is able to create as Filed and Binet discussed with StopPress earlier this year, Nelson-Field appreciates not all brands’ budgets make TV a feasible option.

In saying this, her advice is to go for reach and visibility with whichever platform they can afford.

“Now that might not mean TV, that might be cinema, outdoor or magazines depending on the budget. In a video sense, if you can’t afford TV production, the key take out here is to go for reach and visibility with as much as you have.”

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