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Let’s cut ad waste and invest in high-quality media that attracts attention

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Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / The Current

In our fragmented world, attention is everything. But not all attention is created equal. Capturing audience attention at the right moment and context is already a challenge for marketers — one that fraud and made-for-advertising (MFA) sites only make more difficult. But it’s precisely these problems that should push our industry toward discussing quality and waste again.

Quality media is trusted and captures the attention of the audience. Meanwhile, waste occurs when we invest in places that are not delivering a result even if these show up in analytics as low-cost and efficient placements. Waste needs to be rooted out and shifted to quality media partners where people are lending their attention. 

Attention is designed according to how the platform, digital environment or website is laid out. The user experience and user interface — along with how the context and ad placements are created — can determine the level of attention that people will give to an ad. If the site has a long scroll and predictable ad placement, then there may be ad blindness. If the advertising is relevant and placed in the right context on a well-designed media site, it will likely attract more attention. 

We all know the media we transverse can be fractured and complicated, which makes it even more important to eradicate wastefulness. Waste is not just in dollars lost, but in not being valuable to the audience and in throwing away the efforts of our teams. We should eliminate impressions that are not real. We should reduce ad waste by incorporating analytics, reports and outcomes into the working plan of our brands.

Placing your media where it counts

Attention also comes from trust in the content. We have all cruised the internet and been on publishers' sites enough to know when and how an article is laid out in an untrustworthy way. We know that the brand of the publisher matters: It can reflect whether the site was written by real journalists or by generative AI.  Further, studies back the idea that when people are tired and fatigued, they are more likely to fall into an inattentive state and share content they do not even trust.

People trust their local media and pay attention to it. They trust it because it is written by and for people in their community. In Canada and the U.S., we have seen research that shows time and again that consumers give the most attention and trust to community papers that connect a region. Local media is the most powerful tool for brands because they also want to be trusted. A trusted brand in the context of a trusted publisher is powerful. 

Consider this financial analogy: If you go into an alleyway somewhere and someone offers you a loan, it would likely give you pause. However, if you walk into a trusted bank and they offer you a good rate of interest on a loan, you are more likely to trust it. Context matters. And it matters now more than ever in the media. 

Making the formula clear

Building and executing a great media strategy takes time and thoughtfulness. You also need partners that bring the best context to an ad to gain consumer attention. But the effort is worth it for brands because we are looking for results, and results aren’t based on cost. They are based on the energy we put into fostering brand affinity among consumers — based on the memories that we shape, the experiences we create. These are what help deliver mental availability and steer consumers toward the behaviors that promote growth for our brands. 

This shift in our thinking — away from cost as a measure of outcome — is crucial to ensure that we are building businesses based on ads that people pay attention to. Cost and efficiency will always be important to ensure that we invest with agility and focus on opportunities. But when we focus on quality, we invest wisely, toward the long-term growth of our clients’ businesses. 

The formula is clear: Where we place ads and the context they’re in matters to the level of attention people give to them. If we end waste, our credibility strengthens as stewards who drive investment and growth for our clients. So let’s stop being spenders and start being investors again. Let’s invest in quality to get a better return on investment because it is also better for people. 

Sarah is president of media for dentsu in Canada. She is also a Board Member of the CMDC and is part of the Local Media Collective that oversees the Media Manifesto in Canada.

This op-ed represents the views and opinions of the author and not of The Current, a division of The Trade Desk, or The Trade Desk. The appearance of the op-ed on The Current does not constitute an endorsement by The Current or The Trade Desk.