Eye Tracking Reveals Hidden Truths About Effective Advertising

By Thought Leaders Archives

Traditional advertisements just don’t work any more. And why should they? The media we consume is vastly different than it was 10 or even five years ago. As magazines have adapted to become video-enabled digital media, so should the ads they feature on their pages. The reader’s brain has adapted along with it, recognizing (and often ignoring) branded advertisements that just don’t hold up in this new age. Many advertisers have figured out that they have to adapt as well, offering interactive content and video that engages readers and meets them where they are. Eye tracking helps understand what readers respond to and what is ignored.

In one of our recent studies, 180 participants wearing eye-tracking equipment browsed three popular magazines on iPads. By analyzing subjects’ eye movements, including what elements within the digital magazines drew their attention, how long they focused on said elements and what was effectively ignored, the researchers recognized exactly what people looked at and how what they looked at compared to their stated enjoyment of reading the digital magazine.

Interactivity is the Key

The real key to effective advertising, we discovered, is interactivity. Interactive ad features capture readers’ attention longer and engage them more. Ads that require user action, such as playing a video, swiping the page or clicking a button, perform far better than ads that just sit there.

To attract interaction, ads must have easily displayed video, text with relevant information, or clearly defined buttons  – or better yet, all three. Placement seems to matter too: The closer to the front of the magazine, the more attention an ad receives.

Video Holds Attention the Longest, Increases Memorability

In the study, ads featuring playable video content engaged readers on average for 17.8 seconds -- almost double that of ads with static content. Those ads with video in a major national news and politics magazine were recalled (unaided) by just shy of one in three readers.

There was some difference in the ability to recall advertisements among readers however, suggesting that design is just as important in mobile advertising as it is in print. Advertising with stark contrasting colors draws attention, but good content is key to engagement. There is no one-size-fits-all for advertisers looking to place their ads in digital magazines. Advertisements should be tailored to match the look and feel of the magazine and give the reader useful information.

Readers won’t watch videos if they don’t see a clear, familiar play button to indicate that the ad is not a static image. Advertisers looking to incorporate video into advertisements in digital magazines should look to the magazine for consistency in creating a recognizable button that fits with the overall media format.

Additionally, all relevant information needs to be featured on the first page of an advertisement or it will be ignored. In a celebrity news magazine we tested, 72% of respondents noticed the first page of any given ad while only 8% saw the second page.

When Measuring Ad Effectiveness, Measure the Experience

For years, mobile ad spend has rapidly increased. Video advertising revenues will grow 73% between 2013 and 2018 in the US, according to Business Insider. Standard measures of engagement (views, clicks, etc.) can explain how people engage with the ad in terms of time spent. Standard survey results ask individuals to recall what they saw, remember how they felt and let researchers know what stuck in their head.

However, these traditional measurements, while extremely useful, fail to measure the real experience of viewing an advertisement. They can’t get at subconscious reactions, such as facial expressions, nor can they account for those things that people saw but didn’t remember.

Eye tracking allows researchers to measure visual interaction with digital advertisement to help brands and advertisers understand which aspects of the ads draw and hold the attention of the reader as the ad makes its impression. It also identifies key areas that draw attention, and for how long the viewers notice the important information in an ad. It can also identify areas that people notice but fail to remember based on their recall in post-surveys.

Using that information offers insight into improvement of messaging that can be made to help communications from advertisements be written into memory instead of being passively noticed.

Facial coding analysis takes the viewer’s emotions into account as they experience a digital advertisement. In this methodology, consumers’ facial expressions are recorded as they are exposed to stimuli, such as video or static advertisements on a handheld screen. During the analysis process, researchers compare the recorded expressions to a database of human emotions to identify minute changes in emotional expression. The biggest benefit is that it doesn’t require viewers to fully understand the emotions they experienced -- the analysis does that.

Once analyzed, brands learn what points during their engagement with a person incite joy, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt or anger. The analysts chart these emotions over time to understand the sequence of emotions experienced through an engagement period with an advertisement.

As the way we experience media continues to change, improving both the development of ad content and how we measure ads is critical. Precise measurement tools, like eye tracking or facial coding, uncover how consumers experience advertisements and help advertisers strategically improve the future performance of their marketing communications.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers. 

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