The Eyes Have It: Breakthrough Enables Simple Method To Prove Which Ads Get Seen On Which Publishers' Pages

In a development that could make the viewability debate moot for many advertisers, a promising eye-tracking technology company has had a breakthrough that will dramatically lower the costs -- and ease of access -- to brands, agencies, publishers and others that want to benchmark the performance of their advertising. 

It's not based on whether consumers had an opportunity to see ads, but whether they actually saw them.

Sticky, the eye-tracking firm that utilizes low-cost Web and mobile device cameras to capture the fixation of consumers’ eyes on ads on their screens, has come up with a way to dramatically lower the costs of fielding such research. It is poised to launch a “self-serve” platform that will enable anyone to measure what is actually being seen at a fraction of the cost, time and set-up of previous solutions.

“Eye-tracking has been around a long time,” notes Sticky president Jeff Bander, adding: “but it’s been expensive and time-consuming to implement."

Bander said that Sticky’s initial breakthrough reduced the costs of conventional eye-tracking by 50% over conventional methods, but the new approach reduces that to as little as $100 per page being analyzed, versus historical costs of as much as $10,000 per page.

Instead of taking weeks to field and get results, the new approach can be turned around in as little as “minutes.”

Part of the breakthrough comes from the fact that Sticky has essentially built an ongoing panel of consumers who are incentivized to opt into studies on-the-fly, giving it a continuous database of eye-tracking that can be turned on or off at customer’s whim. The system also enables users to effectively “pre-test” the likelihood that an ad will be seen based on a database of norms for similar ads on similar publishers' pages, and to set up and begin testing on live users immediately.

Bander said the self-serve platform will go live this month, and that Sticky is working on getting the costs down even more, ideally bringing to as low as “$50 per page,” which he says will make it affordable enough for even tiny brands or small retailers to leverage.

One of the significant components of Sticky’s so-called “Seen Metric” is that it also enables brands and agencies to go beyond tracking the likelihood that an ad’s creative will be seen, to the propensity of it being seen on different publishers’ pages, thereby becoming a media planning, buying and post-evaluation tool not just for creative but for media.

Sticky has spent much of the past couple of years trying to sell the concept of the Seen Metric through to the research and planning community, presenting data, case studies and use cases at Advertising Research Foundation conferences and in one-on-ones.

Now it is trying to extend it into the media planning and buying community to give it even more utility. The affordability of the new self-serve model, Bander says, should give more planners, buyers and advertisers the opportunity to experiment and see how their ads perform on different publishers pages. That could ultimately lead to more efficient media schedules or better price negotiations.

“A brand running a campaign typically spend a significant amount of money testing the campaign on their high CPM placements -- page takeovers on Yahoo, that sort of thing,” Bander explains. “Now it will be affordable enough for them to test their campaigns on lower CPM pages to see what kind of results they get.”

In a recent analysis of the same ads on five news publishers sites, Sticky found a significant range, with 44% of AOL News viewers actually seeing it vs. only 24% on CBS News.

7 comments about "The Eyes Have It: Breakthrough Enables Simple Method To Prove Which Ads Get Seen On Which Publishers' Pages".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 5, 2015 at 9:47 a.m.

    Joe, unless I have misread this article, this is an interesting and useful refinement of eye tracking research that will help advertisers judge the potential effectiveness of their digital ads. It isn't going to tell them whether their ad campaigns are "viewable"on a nationwide basis or site by site but merely whether this might be the case in certain website contexts. In other words, its a survey design, not a substitute for solving the "viewability" problem.

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., March 5, 2015 at 9:57 a.m.

    Ed: I think the point is not about measuring what is "viewable," but what is "seen." It's up to the industry if that solves the viewability problem, but it seems to me that measuring that something has been seen is better than measuring whether it can be seen. The tool can be used to measure the propensity of the same ads (creative) to be seen on different publishers pages (and different pages across a publisher). Whether that's deemed "national," raises other issues and semantics, but I think the idea is that you can determine that based on what you want to test. It's just sampling. You can scale the sample anyway you want, A/B test, do whatever you want with it. The main point of the story is that it is now cheap enough and fast enough to do on-the-fly.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 5, 2015 at 10:19 a.m.

    Fair enough, Joe. But the headline and opening paragraph implied that this was a substitute or a possible solution for the "viewability" problem. The fact that a small sample eye tracking study indicates that users on one site might be more inclined to view an ad than if the same ad appeared on another site, does not mean that the advertiser's ad will actually be more "viewable" on the first site in the sense that it will appear on the user's screen and stay so long enough to be seen or read. I do think that the study design is a positive development, however.

  4. jack Brown from BDAI, March 5, 2015 at 11:59 a.m.

    Internet privacy is a very hot topic and cameras are considered very personal. Folks that eat the samples given away for free at the store are not inclined to give up their privacy let alone access to their camera unless there is a significant incentive. Translation; buying views not identifying or attracting customers. Instead of paying for this invasive service why not take the money put it in your Ad budget and make a better cost offer for your product or service. Better yet partner with a Market Data Measurement company that will provide the best possible viewability and market reach. At least you will end up with paying customers.

  5. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., March 5, 2015 at 12:09 p.m.

    @Ed: I can see where you might infer that from the headline and story, but all we reported was that people could use this technology to test and learn which ads get seen on which publishers' pages. It's up to users to decide whether that is a substitute for "viewability" approaches. It's just a sampling and measurement tool. @Jack: I don't believe there is any invasion of privacy in Sticky's method, because consumers opt in to having their eyes tracked. Apologies if that wasn't clear. As you note, there are other ways of proving that an ad or campaign strategy worked, including marketing regression analysis. All Sticky is trying to do is give a simply tool to people to test which ads get seen the most on which publishers' pages. As I noted to Ed, it's up to the marketplace to decide what to do with that.

  6. John Grono from GAP Research, March 6, 2015 at 6:38 a.m.

    Hi Joe and Ed. There is a parallel in the OOH industry. The first step in measurement is the Opportunity-To-See (OTS). Basically it is a measure of the quantum of people who physically pass the sign. Some will see it front on (i.e. hard to miss), while others will pass parallel to it (i.e. low chance of seeing the advertising face. We then factored in scores of hours of eye-gaze tracking to work out how many saw the different formats and what the key characteristics were (size, format, proximity, location, illumination, obstruction etc.) to generate a visibility factor (VI). When you combined the OTS with the VI, you get the Likelihood-To-See (LTS). I see 'viewability' playing the OTS role, and something like Sticky playing the VI role in order to produce some form of LTS measurement. Simple in theory hard in practice. OOH is a less real-time and dynamic medium than the Internet so it can rely more on performance averages, but at this early stage that would probably be better than nothing. Cheers.

  7. Kelly Canavan from 3M Company, March 11, 2015 at 5:02 p.m.

    Hello Joe. You may have heard about software models that simulate subconscious human vision. These models quickly analyze webpages, ad layouts, photos of real world scenes, and very accurately predict what areas and objects will gain our attention at first glance. Our vision scientists built one, so I'll stop there. But please let me know if you'd be interested in learning more.

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