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When it comes to digital advertising, not all impressions are equal. Premium content environments are delivering more for brands, writes IAB UK’s head of research and measurement Elizabeth Lane.

From an early age, we learn the value of making a good impression. In everyday life, it helps to define our choices. It’s why we overdress for job interviews, arrive early for meetings, and come bearing a bottle or bunch of flowers for dinner with friends. Even in our new world of video calls where let’s face it, it’s easy to fall into a habit of ‘top half’ dressing and screen-fatigued smiles, it still matters. Whichever way you cut it, we want to make a good impression.

The same principle is true of digital advertising - good impressions count. Both where an ad is placed and its creative execution have a measurable impact on how it is perceived, the attention it generates, and the lasting effect that it has on people. It’s not just about being in a brand-safe and suitable environment, although that is of course important. It’s also about positively harnessing the benefits of premium environments to drive better results. In short, not all impressions are equal.

This has never been more true than now. Budgets are being squeezed, brands are looking to cut-through in crowded marketplaces and, in some cases, pivot strategies to reflect the changes in our society. In this context, making advertising budgets work harder is paramount and the argument for investing in premium environments becomes more significant.

Here’s what we know. According to our ‘Rules of Attention’ research with eye-tracking specialists Lumen and Ipsos Mori, being in a premium content environment, such as a quality news brand or magazine site, is the single biggest driver of ad attention. In fact, ads in these premium environments generate three times more attention than ads that appear on task sites, such as ticket booking sites or online estate agents. We also know from similar research - such as Newsworks’ ‘The Company You Keep’ study - that this is in part because people are highly engaged with the content they are consuming, which translates to the surrounding ads.

IAB research
 
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Added to this, our research shows that brand recall increases with the amount of attention an ad receives, with those viewed for more than two seconds delivering the highest amount of prompted recall. The significance of these findings is backed up by previous Lumen data, proving the role of attention and brand recall play in driving sales.

While our study was carried out in 2019, it arguably holds even more significance now, with news brands’ online audiences surging and people’s appetite for up-to-the-minute content reaching new levels during the pandemic. According to UKOM data, news and information sites reached 49 million monthly visitors collectively in April 2020 (the first full month of lockdown) - adding nearly 800,000 visitors since January. News sites are also seeing high amounts of time spent per visitor, with average minutes up per person by nearly an hour across the month.

It’s clear that digital news content has never held more value for people and it’s savvy advertisers that are tapping into these huge and invested audiences via premium environments. By doing so, brands stand to boost the attention their ads receive, generate quality engagements, and - most importantly - make a lasting impression. 

Elizabeth Lane is head of research and measurement at IAB UK.