Why Mars is more interested in measuring attention, not impressions

While advertisers have long-called for a way to see how much attention their ads get, they often lack the tools to do so.

For Mars, however, the widening gap between an ad impression served and actual attention is pushing the company to turn to attention-based metrics. Mars is set to embark on a number of tests in the coming months to understand how attention generated by its ads varies by format and channel before going on to investigate what triggers that engagement, said its director of consumer insights for media and creative, Sorin Patilinet.

“There’s more to attention-based metrics than it being used as a trading currency,” said Patilinet. Consequently, learnings from the upcoming tests will be used to inform media planning strategies, for its brands, he added.

His perspective stems from how Mars’ buys ads for all its brands. Unlike other global advertisers, Mars does very little targeting. Instead, there’s a bigger focus on mass reach and subsequently creativity as the main driver of sales.

In fact, Mars has found that the difference between “great” and “bad” creative could be as much as 10 times to the return on investment, whereas it’s nowhere near that amount when looking at the difference between formats like Facebook Stories versus ads in the social network’s newsfeed, said Patilinet.

In other words, the creative behind the ad is more important to someone watching it than the format that houses it. 

“We’ve found that format choices and even frequency increases won’t get us the same returns as a great ad so our aim is to identify the non-performing ads and make them great,” Patilinet.

However, he did not rule out testing attention-based metrics as a trading currency in the future. 

“We haven’t done any type of media buying based on attention in the past, but in the future, it will be an area where we’ll be more curious to understand and potentially pilot those metrics for some of our brands,” said Patilinet.

Some of those tests will be informed by insights Mars’ marketers get from The Attention Council, which is a cross-industry collective that includes Diageo, Microsoft and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Attention metrics are enjoying somewhat of a second wind currently as more advertisers mull whether to ditch easily gamed hygienic metrics in favor of better proxies for media quality. This shift has been accelerated by the fact that targeting data will get harder to access as third-party cookies are purged from Google’s Chrome browser over the next two years. The removal of this data will force advertisers to reevaluate how they prove they measure the effectiveness of the ads, which is why some are turning to attention-based metrics. 

The adoption of interest attention-based metrics has been stifled by a variety of factors.

First, it’s been difficult for the industry to pin down a standard for what denotes a “view”. Second, advertisers have been reluctant to ditch impressions. Whether they want to admit it or not, advertisers are still addicted to clicks even though they know its a blunt way of knowing whether someone saw their ad. Instead, advertisers settle for using impressions to see how many times they have beaten the competition in an auction for the change to have a consumer view their ad.

With the likes of Mars and Microsoft focusing on attention-based metrics, it’s a signal that more advertisers are starting to realize that not all media is created equal, said Alessandro De Zanche, founder of media consultancy ADZ Strategies.

“It also breaks away from the concept of the programmatic open marketplace and actually contradicts it by focusing on the environment and the engagement with the user within a certain context,” said De Zanche.


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