Marketers continue to ‘waste money’ as only 9% of digital ads are viewed for more than a second

New research suggests marketers must start thinking about digital display ads ‘like posters’ if they want to create the same engagement as TV, print or out-of-home advertising.

The vast majority of digital advertising is not being viewed at all, with many marketers still failing to apply effectiveness techniques learned from print and out-of-home to the channel, according to a new study.

Since January 2016, research firm Lumen has used laptop-mounted eye tracking cameras on 300 consumers’ laptops to collect visual data on what they notice when they are online. And over this period the study, which was run in partnership with Nectar-owner Aimia, recorded 30,000 minutes of data, with evidence relating to around 15,000 digital ads.

It found that only 35% of digital display ads received any views at all. And, of those, only 9% of ads received more than a second’s worth of attention. Only 4% of ads, meanwhile, received more than 2 seconds of engagement.

Lumen, which has branded the IAB’s requirement for a digital ad to get one second of dwell time in order to officially register as an impression “ludicrous”, urging marketers to apply learnings from print. As a channel, it says print still provides much more provable effectiveness than digital advertising.

Read more: ‘Newspapers need to get better at shouting about their effectiveness to advertisers’

Applying lessons from print into digital

Using data from its ‘press omnibus’ – a lab that tracks how readers view newspaper content – it compared digital display to print display.

It found that a full-page ad in a paper the same size as the tabloid the New York Daily News will be viewed by 88% of readers, for an average time of 2.8 seconds. In comparison, a billboard format ad on a website will get 38% of people looking for just 1.5 secondsgraphOn the whole, almost half (40%) of press ads are viewed for more than one second, compared to just 9% of digital ads, according to the Lumen study. A quarter of print ads are viewed for more than two seconds, nearly six times the rate of digital.

“The best digital ads do get looked at – but they tend to be simple, elegant, beautiful ads that a creative department would be proud of, rather than moving direct mail pieces,” clarifies Mike Follett, managing director of Lumen.

“When developing digital ads, creatives should ‘think like a poster’ rather than taking their cues from ‘performance marketers’, who have literally nothing to teach the advertising industry.”

Embracing smaller formats

Follett believes print brands such as The Telegraph, which built its digital presence around 10 second ads, are “on to a winner”.

“Marketers don’t quite understand that just because an ad can be seen, doesn’t mean it has to be seen.”

Mike Follett, managing director, Lumen

He adds: “As a channel, digital advertising is only 20 years old so it’s still far from a science. For it to create the same engagement as TV or out-of-home, digital marketers must start to realise that building an ad that has a duration of more than 10 seconds is probably a waste of money.”

Print ads are typically seen by 75% of readers for, on average 2.2 seconds, with digital ads seen by less than half this number, for less than half as long.

However, the biggest problem, according to Follett, is marketers not appreciating the limited time people actually spend on digital channels. He says ads are actually viewed for roughly a 10th of the time they are viewable.

Pointing to Meetrics data, which suggests UK marketers will waste up to £7.2bn on unseen digital ads in 2016, he concludes: “It is very cocky to think anyone is going to look at your digital video for more than 4 seconds. You don’t put a TV ad’s worth of content into a poster so why try to in digital channels? Digital marketers need to start thinking in terms of attention economics or they will just keep on failing.”