Time-based display ads: The right measure for engagement?

The debate around measuring display advertising continues to rage. What counts as an impression? What counts as ‘viewable’? How can you tell whether those impressions are seen real people or robots? And does any of this actually work for your business?

Against this background a new standard is gradually gaining traction: buying based on ‘attention’. That is, only buying advertising that is on the screen at the same time a human being is interacting with their device, and trading in that attention using time as a currency rather than impressions.

This approach has a number of benefits, but perhaps the most important is that ads are valued proportionally to the actual value they represent for the client — if a user has spent five seconds looking at the page with your advertisement in view, this is more valuable to your brand than if the advertisement was only in view for two seconds.

At The Economist, we started offering attention-based advertising at the end of 2015. By combining viewability and engagement metrics we made it possible for advertisers to buy guaranteed viewing time for their ads. This changes the discussion from ‘I want a million impressions’ to ‘I want 20 hours of exposure for my brand to engaged users’. So far we have seen great results for our clients and repeat bookings.

The latest publisher to offer time-based display advertising is The Guardian. And to pilot their first campaign, they partnered with UM London to display ads by… The Economist. The campaign will run until late September. It’s a good example of The Economist implementing a digital strategy to drive subscriptions using the same tools that we recommend for our advertising clients.

Tom McCave, Audience Development Director, said that the decision to run this pilot experience was “part of our own campaign’s test-and-learn strategy. I am excited to see how targeted content ads shown to a receptive audience for the optimal amount of time will contribute to the success of this project.”

We’re looking forward to keeping you updated with the results of this campaign as they come in.