Summary:

Most agencies and big marketers still think of digital advertising as a “cheaper” medium that’s best suited for direct-response ads, rather…

Pam Horan, president, OPA

Most agencies and big marketers still think of digital advertising as a “cheaper” medium that’s best suited for direct-response ads, rather than branding campaigns. For the latter, they still prefer newspapers and TV. The Online Publishers Association, along with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, has been trying to change that perception the last few years by promoting a series of larger ad formats, like page takeovers. While the larger canvas has improved the creative quality of online ads markedly, advertisers say they won’t spend more until they have verifiable proof that the ads are working. The OPA’s answer: check out the latest biometic data.

Essentially, biometrics looks at what’s going on physically with a person, including heart rate, sweat, breathing, and motion, wile they’re engaged in whatever action is being studied. The goal, in this case, was to determine whether or not there was a physical reaction from a web-user when seeing an ad across their screen.

About 100 participants were directed to the homepages of three OPA member sites: CNN.com, MSNBC.com and NYTimes.com — and offered stories that appeared to be general, non-breaking news. These homepages and particular article pages were recreated for the purposes of this study so that an OPA Ad Unit could be randomly presented on the targeted article pages. The participants had identified themselves as regular readers of the sites offered. Nine brand advertisers were involved in the study, including Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Bing, Unilever and Westin Hotels.

After strapping a monitor to the participants chests and using a heat senor to track their eye movements, here’s what the OPA and Innerscope found:

– 67 percent of users revisited OPA’s Ad Units after spending time on a webpage
– 96 percent of participants say they pay attention to OPA Ad Units while naturally surfing
– On average it takes 0.6 seconds to fixate (or focus) on an OPA Ad Unit
– 90 percent of participants notice OPA Ad Units in the first 10 seconds of being on a webpage
– On average, participants fixate over 15 times on OPA Ad Units
– 40 percent of these fixations occur after the first 10 seconds of being on a webpage

So what does all this mean? Pam Horan, the OPA’s president, says it all adds up to figuring out a metric for “engagement” on the part of users and advertising.

The challenge of measuring “engagement” with online ads has become key issue for brand advertising. The search for an engagement metric is meant to counter the clickthrough, which is the standard metric for determining whether an online ad registered with an audience. While that works great for direct-response ads, which send out “calls to action” to buy something by clicking on a banner ad, it does nothing for brand awareness. For the most part, a branding campaign doesn’t necessarily want you to do anything immediate, except notice the advertising and come up with a positive, memorable feeling about it.

Despite getting the results from the study, publishers and agencies aren’t going to rush out to get an expensive biometric study done for each campaign, Horan concedes. “I think that the challenge for our industry is to try to measure ads on a campaign-by-campaign basis,” she said. “At minimum, let’s see if these ads do what we think they will do. That was the goal here.”

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