Thomas James Kelly

Thoughts on the chaos of digital marketing and research and NYC bike lanes . . . . .

Speak Better Digital with 3 Easy Words

Tom Kelly

Key Takeaways:

      • We’re in an attention economy – shouldn’t we be measuring our digital media using attention metrics? 
      • “Engagement” is the core attention metric, a highly used digital marketing term with no consistent definition – online marketers deserve better
      • We should be able to frame Engagement more clearly into: Cognitive, Physical and Emotional groupings
      • Real-time reporting tools have recently evolved and now offer efficient reporting for Physical Engagement which can help replace CTR as a standard metric of convenience

      The average human attention span decreased 33% between 2000 and 2012, from 12 seconds to 8 seconds.1  For those in marketing and media, this data, at face value, is not good news; it makes us all work harder to maintain viewers, promote brand message and keep consumers engaged.    When the supply of something--in this case, attention, decreases, doesn’t its value increase? And if so, shouldn’t this decrease in attention supply be good news for digital media?  Yes, providing you can saliently define, and then quantify it. 

      Engagement is a primary quantification device for attention.  If you were to ask a handful of digital strategists to define engagement, you would most likely get just as many definitions back. Gloto (, a Maryland based engagement technology company, gives us perspective on the complexity of this form of measurement below.     


      What if we were able to foster a higher level understanding of engagement first?  Perhaps the most useful approach would be creating a taxonomy that classifies the critical online ad measurement realm.  Given the complexity of online media marketing, I think we owe it to marketers to take the initiative to evolve engagement from a buzzword to a meaningful, consistent, defendable way to hold ourselves accountable.

      A December 2012 IAB whitepaper titled Digital Ad Engagement: An Industry Overview and Reconceptualization, outlines three distinct categories for engagement and cites work from educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains:

      Cognitive Engagement – measures attention metrics such as awareness, interest and intention

      Physical Engagement – measures physical interactions with ads

      Emotional Engagement – measures affect, how did the ad make a viewer feel, did they like the ad, did it stir up any sentiment positive or negative?  

      Let’s use any major CPG brand as an example, let’s say they run an online campaign to launch a new cereal. Because this is a new product, the brand would want to encourage Cognitive Engagement among consumers by featuring their brand name prominently throughout the ad and on all frames. Reveal ads ( are almost always ineffective, as Dynamic Logic proves in their Golden Rules of Online Branding2.  As the advertiser, you would measure the effects of the effort by conducting survey based Ad Effectiveness Research to gauge attitudinal shifts on metrics like Ad Awareness, Brand Favorability and Purchase Intent.  

      eye track.png

      Also consider executions where consumers are prompted to watch a short webisode video or respond to a poll within the actual ad unit.  Here, the goal is to drive Physical Engagement among consumers. Eye tracking, or tag based heat mapping of mouse activity, illustrates the effectiveness of your audience and the creative.  

      Another example is insurance companies. Their goal is to break through the banality of auto insurance by using humor. They add levity by using animals and absurd characters in otherwise serious situations. In these cases, they would want to promote Emotional Engagement by developing video ad executions and testing the emotional connection using bio-metric, facial recognition capabilities. 


      What if a marketer is looking to achieve all three? Is it possible to capture all three types of engagement within one ad unit? AOL thinks so (full disclosure – I work here). The Devil unit, an AOL Premium Format, contains up to three distinct modules housed within a 300x1050 execution.

      In the Kitchen Daily unit example below, the three modules include:


      1)    Learn More / Image Gallery:  Cognitive Engagement – show off your product assets with beautiful and interactive photos

      2)    Video Gallery:  Emotional Engagement – sight, sound and motion promotes the story of the brand, complementary to TV

      3)    Content Feed:  Physical Engagement – native advertising or social media vehicle creates the opportunity to tell your brand/product story in context of a broader category narrative

      Research performed with IPG Media Lab, Affectiva and Dynamic Logic measured on Devil (IAB Portrait) units employed all of the above-mentioned modalities: eye tracking heat maps, biometrics and surveys.  This enabled us to gauge Cognitive, Physical and Emotional interaction respectively, and proved how Devil outperformed industry benchmarks for each. 

      At the center of keeping ourselves accountable and results-oriented for our clients are real-time, metric reporting platforms, some of which have evolved over the last 24 months.  Moat, a platform used by AOL, helps to gain instant visibility into diagnostics like Interaction Rate and Interaction Time, both standard IAB metrics.  We can also see Hover rates, Page Dwell times and Attention Quality. And of course, Ad Viewability Rate and Time are also reported.  It’s the Interaction Rate and Time which resonate most with savvy marketers – especially when they can couple that insight with living breathing heat maps illustrating where most consumers are focusing their attention on the ad. The major importance of this real-time measurement of Physical Engagement is that its cost efficient to produce – just like CTR.

      I was heavily involved in the mid-1990s meetings where click-through rate was espoused as the ultra track-able ethos of this, then, new medium. If you want to win marketer budget, you better have a differentiator from offline media. Click-through rate was quickly cemented as the web’s raison d'être for marketers.    

      To be sure, CTR is a useful metric when driving traffic to a client’s informational or transactional page is the KPI.  It's also true that CTR is applied as a success barometer on digital marketing efforts where it is not the goal.  But while CTR is an old metric of convenience, when saliently defined, Engagement is the new one.    

      Legacy aside, if Interaction is convenient and also a core metric within the Engagement realm, one wonders if there is a broader link between Interaction and brand building. The AOL Consumer Analytics and Research team is currently engaged in parallel testing to measure the quantitative relationship between digital interaction rates and ad effectiveness metrics such as awareness, favorability and purchase intent.  Stay tuned for a future post from the AOL research team with the results of that study.

      1 - Harald Weinreich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder, and Matthias Mayer: “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use”
      2 – Creative Best Practices for Driving Online Ad Effectiveness and Maximizing Brand Impact – Dynamic Logic