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Leveraging Attention to Help Ad Buyers — and Your Bottom Line

Sovrn Advertising Team // September 8, 2022

Today’s ad buyers are in a difficult position. With the coming loss of third-party cookies, the IAB projects that advertisers stand to lose billions of dollars in annual revenue. Going beyond the monetary aspect, this fundamental shift means advertisers will have to rethink how they target, optimize, and measure ad performance. 

Think about it this way: without the robust third-party data they’ve relied upon for years, buyers are less confident about where to direct their ad spend. They’ve lost the ability to target audiences that deliver results. And they’re struggling to understand whether readers are seeing their ads. 

The good news is, there are steps you as a publisher can take to help buyers address these challenges — and help your own bottom line in the process. It all starts with one critical concept: audience attention.

Viewability doesn’t go far enough

For years, the digital ad industry has used viewability as a proxy for attention. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has defined viewability as “at least 50% of an ad is in view for a minimum of one second.” Yet this covers the absolute minimum — one second isn’t enough time to convey a message — when it comes to actual human engagement. It also doesn’t measure ad performance. By using viewability as their main metric, many advertisers still struggle to deliver the right ad, at the right time, to the right audience.

So what exactly is “attention”?

As a metric, attention is intended to convey whether an ad captures the reader’s interest at a given point in time, making it a valuable signal of their likelihood to take action. Judging from all the buzz around the so-called “Attention Economy” — in the media, at Cannes LIONS, in webinars and ebooks — it’s clear that advertisers are interested in the idea of tapping into audience attention. 

There’s just one problem: at the moment, there’s no single, unified definition of what “attention” actually is. And with no clear definition of attention (or way of measuring it), there’s no clear path to optimization for either buyers or publishers.  IAB UK’s Elizabeth Lane explains it like this:

“Advertisers are excited about using attention to measure effectiveness, but they’re confused by all the different definitions being used in the market. The risk is that this confusion will lead to them not using attention as a metric and not taking advantage of the insights it can offer.”

Clearly, the most valuable audience segments are those paying the most attention. And publishers who can deliver clear attention signals to buyers can command higher rates for high-value inventory. To help capture the information publishers and buyers need to identify and target engaged audience segments, Sovrn has devised a new measure of attention called “engaged time.” 

Capturing attention for better optimization

Every time a user visits your site, they emit “signals of intent” – including clicks, swipes, scrolls, mouse movements, and more. And every interaction tells you something about where the reader’s attention is focused — and their level of engagement. 

This idea is the basis for Sovrn’s engaged time metric, which combines viewability with more than 50 distinct on-page reader interactions. As a result, engaged time measures not only when an ad is in view, but also when a person is actively engaged with the content. This ability to analyze ad performance and turn attention into increased revenue is the foundation of our data product, Sovrn Signal

Signal gives publishers the ability to:

  • Understand the metrics buyers use to value ad inventory
  • Benchmark your own performance against the market and other sites like yours
  • Generate incremental impressions from your most engaged users
  • Identify, target, and price your most valuable ad inventory

Across the entire programmatic ad stack, Signal leverages attention metrics to pinpoint the most engaged — and most valuable — ad inventory. Publishers can then use this data to appropriately price and package their inventory. That same data informs advertisers which ad units are most valuable and what factors contribute to higher ad engagement. 

Today, Sovrn is working with publishers using Signal to predict the “attention score” for each impression and pass this information to advertisers in real time. And we’ve found that buyers are rewarding publishers with high-scoring inventory with up to two times higher CPMs.

As our own Peter Cunha said at the AdMonsters Ops conference earlier this year:

“There’s a huge value for publishers in plugging the gap made by the departure of third-party data in determining the value of an ad. The more publishers can provide reliable data and context at scale around an ad opportunity, the better off the entire ecosystem will be.”

Get started today

The world of online advertising has reached a pivotal moment, with a unique opportunity for advertisers and publishers to join forces and unlock new solutions that will benefit everyone involved. Sovrn Signal gives publishers a simple, scalable way to measure user attention, access deep audience insights, deliver the data buyers need to target high-value audience segments, and maximize inventory value. 

It’s easy to get started with Signal, and a single fee gives you access to all its features and dashboards. To learn more, visit the Signal page on our website or send an email to Our team would be happy to provide a demo, so you can see the power of Signal for yourself.

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