If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Regardless of your thoughts on this philosophical thought experiment, one thing is for certain - nobody heard the tree fall. The same principal can be applied to online advertising - if an ad is served and cannot be seen, can it make an impression?

If a Tree Falls in a Forest ComicOf course, it cannot. This is why viewability has grown to become a key metric in determining the potential effectiveness of ads. While the definition may vary depending on the ad format, an ad is typically deemed viewable if 50% of its pixels are in view on the screen for at least 1 second. So if your ad is viewable, it’s definitely seen, right?

Not so fast. One might assume that all ads above the fold or that pop-up on your screen before browsing a website are seen, however this is not the case. Just because an ad can be seen doesn’t mean it was actually seen. For example, the below image demonstrates how a 100% viewable ad is only seen by 6% of visitors to this website.

Viewability versus Seen Graphic

Here at Sticky, we’ve been able to use the power of eye tracking to help brands, agencies, and publishers use real, visual data to determine what ad formats, placements, and creative are not just viewable, but are actually viewed by audiences. In the below study, we tested four viewable ad formats on CNN’s homepage to demonstrate the variability in visual attention received by each despite all being 100% viewable. The four formats used were video, leaderboard (traditional banner ad). skyscraper, and in-content. The study was sent to 88 participants on their own computers, in their own homes. They were asked to browse the homepage as they normally would for 30 seconds while their webcam tracked where they were looking on the screen.

Ad Formats Image

By using the key eye tracking metrics percent fixated (percent of participants that fixated on an ad) and time on (time spent looking at the ad), we were able to determine the overall attention given to each ad by multiplying percent seen and time on. Below is a chart showing how the ads stacked up.

Overall Attention Chart.png

In this example, the video ad performed the best. Participants spent the most time looking at the video (6.4s) and 97% of participants fixated on it, a close second to the leaderboard which received fixations from 100% of participants. Merging these metrics makes this video ad the most engaging format on CNN’s homepage.

As consumers of the web become more discerning of traditional ad formats, they become more adept at avoiding ads like the skyscraper format, commonly existing on the side of the webpage slightly removed from the main content. Therefore, it’s not surprising to find that this ad format performed significantly worse than the video and leaderboard formats. 79% of participants fixated on it for an average of 2.5 seconds.

In-content ad formats have become very popular. They tend to receive more engagement, because they are interspersed with and stylized similarly to content readers are expecting to find or looking for. However, in this case the heat map shows that the news headlines and synopses were read by participants, but once they recognized the ad they quickly went back to reading. This is demonstrated by the fact that the in-content ad was fixated on by more participants than the skyscraper ad, but because it was for half the amount of time (1.3s vs. 2.5s) it received a lower overall attention score.

These types of eye tracking insights and data become an invaluable resource for brands, agencies, and publishers to design more visually engaging ad creative, select or design more effective ad placements, charge a higher CPM for a more effective ad placement or format, validate unique native ad formats, and much more.

Don’t let your dependence on viewability be an ironic blindspot! Contact us below to find out how our team can help create the right, customized eye tracking study for you.

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