Can sponsorship deliver attentive reach?

attention reach iris bw

There’s probably no better time to talking about sponsorship and attentive reach than in the days after a World Cup Final. But first kudos and appreciation to Tim Cairns, who recently directed us to the term attentive reach – a term which has been growing slowly in currency over the last three years.

What does it mean? Well, put simply, the reach of an advert qualified by the condition that people will actually notice and pay attention to it.

Our Psychological Planning Framework ensures your sponsorship grabs the attention it deserves – for more information, click the image.

Although Google is leading the charge beyond typical ad metrics (impression share, CTR, CPC, CPM) to measured business outcomes (such as awareness, lead generation and sales), most media metrics are still based on the traditional opportunity-to-see. If a digital ad has been served and meets the Media Rating Council standard of 50% pixels for 2 seconds, then it counts as an impression.

Google frames advertising around business outcomes

But the reality, according to Karen Nelson-Field at Amplified Intelligence, is that the vast majority of MRC compliant ads receive minimal attention.  

The simple argument of proponents of attentive reach is that if nobody is paying attention to an advertisement, it can’t have any effect on business outcomes – be that sales, awareness, recall, message take out, mental availability, upper or lower brand metrics.

This position itself aligns with sponsorship measurement’s use of sponsorship awareness as a benchmark for measuring brand metrics. Rosser-Reeves would roll in his grave.

Visual from Amplified Intelligence

The value of attention

According to Nelson-Field, 75% of online ads don’t deliver the value that advertisers are paying for. By contrast, ‘every attentive second leads to the brand being remembered for 3 days… Not all reach is equal. Attention adds a quality layer that other non-human data simply can’t. When quality parameters are considered, mindsets change, investment is re-calibrated and effectiveness emerges.’

Agencies such as Amplified Intelligence and Lumen here are jockeying to define the new market for measurement in a new attention economy. Attentive seconds cost per thousand, anyone?

Modelling the incremental value of attentive reach by Realeyes : more attention leads to greater effectiveness.

In principle, measurement of attentive reach would be independent of platform owners, and give advertisers a way to identify, manage and even call out platform (and creative) differences. It would provide a resilient, portable and impartial measure of what people do rather than what platforms do and retain its usefulness and accuracy in the face of platform and device disruption. 

And at first blush, sponsorship appears to have much to offer in terms of attentive reach.

Sponsorship creative and the value of emotion

Creative is roundly acknowledged as the most important driver of attention, because of its ability to drive attention and emotional response – a position which both Binet and Field and Byron Sharp support. According to Nielsen NCS, creative is responsible for 48% of sales outcomes in brand advertising campaigns. But what does good creative look like in sponsorship? 

Sponsorship provides clear creative parameters for advertising – and content rich in emotion. We’re familiar with Nike, adidas and their peers exploring the psychic dimensions of high performance and their athlete insights touch us all – but how do we compare the attention-grabbing potential of Coke’s shapeless optimism against Pepsi’s memorable nutmeg?

Difficult if we’re comparing creative – less so if we use metrics like emotional intensity or attentive reach.

Gaze-tracking confirms that highly emotional moments in creative gain more attention. Intense emotional cues, in Karen Nelson-Field’s words, ‘jumpstart our brains and prime us to take on new information’. Heightened emotion shortwires our predictive state (Kahneman’s system one), although it of course has to be linked to motivational messaging about the brand for it to have commercial value. Budweiser’s puppy dog – as Phil Barden reminds us in Decoded – was, after all, put up for readoption. As cute as it was, it didn’t sell beer.

Budweiser discovered that the link between cute puppies and beer consumption wasn't as strong as they'd hoped.

A live study was run during the World Cup, not with sponsors but with US broadcasters Telemundo and Fox. Triangulum and Realeyes tested two promos from each broadcaster to understand how well each network is driving viewership of the FIFA World Cup in the USA. 

It’s a curious study, like most neuro studies. Its findings provide interesting insight into the emotional engagement of audiences (the peaks and troughs of attention) along the importance of large logos – but fail to make a clear link between attention, emotional engagement and behavioural change. Attentive reach is clearly only the beginning.

Tracking attention across Fox promos. Only in the US would you see Mariah Carey in this visual.

Sport in particular isn’t short of emotional highlights, but are sponsors closely enough linked to the action for the emotion to work for the brand? Highlights of course, goal /man/woman of the match etc and broadcast sponsorship can cement an association with emotional peaks but how else can sponsors benefit from the high emotional temperature of events within the constraints of most broadcast rules? GOAT’s PSG signage for example famously changed for Messi’s free kick against Nice in October is one obvious response – but in stadia replays also offer huge flexibility to strengthen association.

Major events offer a broader mood board to play against as they represent community and celebration every bit as much as sport.

Inelastic attention?

Media context has proven critical to attention. The importance of context in ad placement has been highlighted in recent years as a result of programmatic ads appearing in wildly inappropriate settings. But now advertising research takes another step closer to sponsorship research as distinct media platforms are found to have a clear impact on attention. In other words, research has confirmed that different platforms suffer from different attention elasticity. Despite the importance of creativity to drive salience and attention, its impact is actually constrained by the media platform. 

The table to the right, also from Amplified Intelligence, shows levels of attention to 13 creative executions across four different platforms, with huge range in attention delivered – from 2.3 seconds to 7.2 seconds, in the most extreme example.

The articles that we’ve seen show no attempt to generalise from this data to predict the impact of platform – and Nelson-Field’s background at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science means she won’t be tempted without large scale repetition. But the conversation at least feels close to the sponsorship territory of fit and congruence, where Kahneman’s critical system 2 is triggered by signs of incongruity or lack of associative coherence. 

Sponsorship of course reaches audiences via their preferred channels, enabling sponsors to access an entire ecosystem of relevant channels. Even casual fans, given today’s multi-screen consumption can be reached via broadcasts and web platforms.

Leaning into and away from

Research has shown that incongruent sponsorship can easily be seen as strange and encourage rejection. Similarly, adverts which appear outside of appropriate context are more easily seen as misplaced or irrelevant – although this doesn’t necessarily lead to less attention. Rolex’s current content campaign is for me a great example of incongruity .

Rolex is running a series of conversations with sustainability leaders from developing countries, Carefully curated interviews and even more carefully curated imagery – which all feel unwittingly close to self-parody.

The Superbowl is described as a lean forward event for advertising, in the sense that viewers want to engage with the advertising. Most sports events could be described as lean forward in terms of viewing – but in terms of advertising? The tendency to develop creative around major events certainly helps – as the advertising, even if repetitive, becomes a natural extension of the event. But events without that sense of advertiser presence, where adverts are tweaked or just inserted as media by event sponsors, can these really hope to claim audience attention? 

As for LED, even though it delivers the majority of media value for major events, it’s supremely unengaging – and the content or creative barely warrant a quarter second of attention.

Looking at the World Cup Finals, adidas was the only brand actively using the LED to engage a global audience. Most were making meaningless brand statements.

Visa chose to heighten its emotional association with the World Cup Finals with the symmetrical placement of its logo around the perimeter – setting itself a comfortably low bar for measurement.

On the other hand, sponsors’ digital advertising – aligned with a sponsorship – frequently outperforms regular advertising : there appears to be a willingness by viewers to lean into digital advertising at least. 

Unlike advertising, sponsorship is intrinsically context or field dependent : its meaning is generally dependent on its context. This is both a strength and a weakness. A weakness because, outside of its natural environment, sponsorship messaging immediately becomes irrelevant. But a strength in the context of attentive reach because audiences are using channels they want to be on and because the creative framework for sponsorship communications advertising is clearly defined. The challenge is how to optimise creative cut-through.

ABI footnote

AB InBev is increasingly moving away from buying media purely on traditional cost-per-thousand impressions and towards buying ‘attentive reach’ – according to Tracy Stallard, AB InBev’s global vice-president of consumer experiences and in-house agency draftLine.

‘We know that consumers are much more attuned to receiving new messages when they’re in something that they’re actively leaning into and that tends to be their passion points. We’re not channel focused, we’re people focused. 

No doubt in ABI collective mind that sponsorship can deliver – and in our opinion, Budweiser’s activation of this year’s World Cup – setting aside the irritation of the ban on alcohol – was superb, at every level.

Sponsorship and attentive reach

Sponsorship has huge potential to lay claim to the territory of attentive reach because viewers and fans are willing to welcome sponsors who genuinely enhance the overall experience and, to paraphrase Seth Godin, join the Tribe. 

Where many sponsors still fall down is the fine line of creative translation. It isn’t enough simply to support or enhance the event – brands need to show clear awareness of the role they’re seen to play in the proceedings. 

Our simple summary of how to strengthen sponsorship’s attentive reach can be downloaded here – Strenghtening attentive reach for your sponsorship.

For more information on Redmandarin's psychological planning framework, please click above.
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