The future of Facebook is Lumen (according to Mark Ritson)

The star of this year’s Festival of Marketing, like the star of last year’s Festival of Marketing, was Professor Mark Ritson. His conversation with Steve Hatch of Facebook was as entertaining and sweary as we have come to expect. One particular highlight was this exchange (as reported by Marketing Week):
“Keeping with the effectiveness theme, Hatch moved the conversation onto viewability and attention, asking for Ritson’s point of view on the future and how best to measure it. The answer to that, it turns out, is Lumen.
Too right. Totally agree. Mark went on:
[Lumen] measurements…found that news media garners the best attention, yet no one seems to know about this data because the news media “doesn’t have a f-ing clue what they’re doing in promoting their advertising.”
He’s right to highlight how good ads on newsbrands are – and wrong about how good the newsbrands are at promoting themselves. More and more advertisers are coming round to the view that newsbrands are great at gaining and holding attention, and their inventory is undervalued at the moment. So they must be pretty good at getting the story out.
But the message we want to get out today is this:  Facebook is f-ing good too.
A brief look at our most recent data for Facebook shows that it is an excellent way of getting people to look at ads. All the subsequent data comes from Lumen’s UK-based desktop eye tracking panel, analysis of 176,000 viewable display ad impressions and 23,000 Facebook in-feed ad impressions, 2016-present.
On average, 30% of viewable in-feed ads get looked at, compared to around 20% for display ads in general – this is very good, though as Mark would point out, not as good as newsbrands. Viewable ads on The Times, for example, have a 54% chance of actually getting looked at.

Where Facebook distinguishes itself is in how long people look at the ads. Whereas most display ads get viewed for around 1.3 seconds, Facebook ads get an average of 2.1 seconds of attention on average. This is an important threshold to get over: we have noticed that people are far more likely to remember a brand if they look at an ad for more than 2 seconds.

What is driving this success? Normally, we would say that attention to advertising is a function of attention to editorial: the longer you stay on a page and can see an ad, the more likely you are to notice an ad. But that isn’t the case for Facebook, where viewable times are significantly less than the display norm. Ads are usually available to be seen for around 20 seconds on most sites we track; on Facebook it’s just 8 seconds. So ads on Facebook have less time than half the time of most display ads to get noticed, but generate nearly twice as much attention.

The answer probably has more to with three separate by complementary factors: video, targeting and site layout.
Since Facebook’s famous ‘pivot to video’, not only the content but the accompanying advertising has become dominated by video.
I don’t know if this is such a good thing for content, but certainly works for ads. People spend far more time engaging with video advertising than static advertising. Not engaging like a Cinema or TV ad, but more than static banners. On average, if a video display ad gets looked at, it will get looked at for 2.5 seconds, almost double the time length for a static ad. Not a great deal of time, but how much do you really need to say about your catfood to remind people about the TV ad they recently saw for the said catfood? And crucially, this time length breaks the 2 second barrier, meaning that if you have branded your ads properly, people should remember the brand of the ad.

(Note: ‘player instream’ data excludes YouTube. We have this data, but do you expect us to give all our data away for free?)
The second ingredient is targeting. People are far more likely to notice and spend time with ads that are relevant to them than ads that are not. Catfood advertising is more interesting to cat owners than the rest of us, and Facebook is very good at knowing whether or not you have a cat. At Lumen we do lots of tests for lots of clients to establish how important this targeting is. The effects differ from category to category, and the results are, of course, proprietary to our clients so I can’t share them here, but believe me: they’re big. So, while Bob Hoffman may lament the pernicious effects of hypertargeting on our creative industries and democratic institutions, he’s wrong to say that it doesn’t work. It’s the fact that it does work that makes it a moral and ethical choice whether or not to use or regulate these technologies.
Finally, the key to Facebook’s success may lie in design. Most of the ads on Facebook are in-feed. On Facebook, the reader’s eye doesn’t have to move from what they are really interested in (the content) to notice the ads. The ads are interspersed at regular intervals and sized to be of equal importance to the content. This also means that big enough to be seen.
If you look below, you will see a typical (anonymised) user session on Facebook. Sure, there’s some attention to the ads in the top right hand corner of the page, but it’s easy to see that most of the attention goes to the feed – and that’s where Facebook puts most of the ads, which gives them the best chance of being noticed. And that’s how you make the big bucks.

So what should we all learn from this:
  • Advertisers should understand that Facebook is a jolly good place to advertise, but not totally sui generis. It’s just another website, albeit a very good one for advertisers.
  • Publishers should learn a thing or two from Facebook about how to layout a page and how to give advertising some space to breathe.
  • And Facebook should understand that it doesn’t matter how many impressions you serve – or even how many viewable impressions – but how much attention you create for advertisers that really drives business success. Viewability is table stakes. Attention is the real deal.