Picture: 123RF/rawpixel
Picture: 123RF/rawpixel

Until now, we have believed that it takes 1.5 seconds for an ad to be processed on static and three seconds on video. Industry standards have been built around this. But new research by Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) Global reveals that this is not true: not only is video processed faster than static, but all ads – video or static – are processed in under half a second. This has far-reaching implications for marketers and publishers who believe that the longer an ad is shown in-feed, the better its impact.

These and other important findings are part of the MMA’s Cognition Research study, which was conducted in the US with 900 consumers participating. It is the first study of its kind, and has been validated by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF). Using both weak and strong ads – as based on actual performance – it sought to prove how long an ad needs to be seen in-feed for it to be cognitively processed.

From eye-tracking to neuroscience

Previous research studies that have looked into the time it takes to process an ad have focused only on eye-tracking. But this yields reactionary data, and an essential piece of the puzzle is missing. What about how the brain processes the same ad? Do we get the same result? Through this lens, the new research went far deeper than a surface-level study and considered the effect of neuroscience on our reaction times to engage with and process ads. In other words, what does an ad do to the left and right sides of our brain? And then, what do the results mean?

Not as much time as we think

It was clear from the data that our brains work far faster than has previously been thought. In the mobile feed environment, we scroll quickly and process ads in the blink of an eye. Yet we’re still following on old model, reformatting long TV ads for the small screen or creating mobile-first content that is many seconds long, again in the belief that the longer the ad plays the better its impact will be.

Based on this new research, a new mindset is required – we need to earn our consumers’ attention, not buy it.

The one-second strategy

It is clear that we need to rethink our value of time. We don’t have the luxury to engage our target audiences for long; we need to think in shorter, punchier bursts of content that grabs the consumer’s attention from the start. Creatives will need to conceptualise a brand’s story in a far faster way that gets to the gist of the campaign as the ad appears. It won’t be easy, but it will have a far better success rate.

The big take-out

All advertising is processed in less than half a second, which requires a new mindset to the way we approach advertising, according to recent MMA research.

Think for mobile

We also cannot use standard desktop viewability times (two to three seconds) as our guide for the same ad’s efficacy in mobile. They are completely different platforms and user experiences, yet we are treating them as one and the same, even though many marketers have long assumed that they are unique. Until now this hasn’t been proved and we’ve been paying the same cost-per-thousand (CPM) rates for these two distinct environments.

Financial opportunity

The take-out from this research is that we need to rethink how our ads are created and what we’re paying for them. Currently, publishers trade in one or two seconds viewability, while in fact they can use previously non-viewable inventory and turn it into a commercial opportunity. Likewise, marketers can get creative with their media buying. Instead of paying higher CPMs for longer attention times, they should be thinking about the value of one second.

Collaboration is key

While it will take some time before this research affects industry standards, there is an opportunity for publishers and marketers to test the waters of this new neuroscience territory and experiment. Both will benefit commercially.

  • Sarah Utermark is MMA SA’s country director

The full Cognition Research report is available here.