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Sustainable attention

Media Audits

Optimizing Attention Time: A Strategy for Brands to Minimize Carbon Footprint

The media sector has a responsibility to take the lead in reducing worldwide emissions. Technology and infrastructure associated with the internet contribute to about 4% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions globally (Hugues et al., 2019). Recent reports from the industry have revealed that the average advertising campaign produces around 5,4 metric tonnes of carbon (Team, T. G.-L. 2021, September 21). Until now, it has been challenging to accurately assess and minimize online emissions. However, there have been developments in the market, with companies offering tools to measure emissions and Attention Time at a domain and URL level, respectively.


What is attention in advertising

In the context of advertising, attention refers to the cognitive focus and awareness that individuals give to an advertisement or promotional message. It is the ability of an advertisement to capture and hold the attention of its target audience.

Attention is a crucial factor in advertising because it serves as a gateway for other processes such as perception, comprehension, and persuasion. Without capturing attention, an advertisement may go unnoticed or fail to deliver its intended message effectively.


Attention optimization & carbon emissions 

Although it may not be immediately apparent, attention and carbon emissions are closely linked. In the past, many brands have adopted a “spray-and-pray” approach, advertising across various platforms without fully understanding their effectiveness. This approach often prioritizes reaching a larger audience, which inevitably leads to higher emissions.

In numerous campaigns, resources are often allocated to placing ads on domains where they receive little to no attention. This not only leads to poorer brand outcomes but also results in significant unnecessary emissions. Recent research has shown that approximately 15.3% of advertising expenditure is wasted on inventory that generates no value while producing excessive CO2 emissions (Adnews, 2022). Consequently, we will now discuss several methods that digital advertising companies can employ to maintain their media effectiveness while reducing their environmental impact.


Tips for advertising brands to reduce emissions 

A few of the ways to reduce emissions for brands running digital advertising campaigns are the following: 

1. Advertisers should remove high emissions players from their media mix 

Advertisers should conduct an evaluation to identify the players contributing to higher emissions across their advertisements. As such, they should remove high emission players from their media mix (publishers and ad networks). Instead, they could collaborate with technology vendors like Scope 3, Dimpact, and IPA Media Climate Chart to measure and take steps to decrease emissions. 


2. Reduce wasted advertising by optimizing towards a maximum level of attention

Another way to reduce carbon emissions is by minimizing advertising in domains where the Attention Time is negligible. By optimizing campaigns based on Attention Time and reallocating impressions from domains with zero Attention Time to other platforms, waste can be significantly reduced. For instance, removing advertising from domains where the average Attention Time is below 0.5 seconds resulted in a 63% decrease in total emissions, while the average Attention Time per impression increased by almost 40% (Branding in Asia Magazine, 2023). This approach proves more effective than simply excluding domains based on emissions alone. However, brands should consider combining this strategy with a third approach, which involves optimizing campaigns to achieve the highest possible Attention Times.


3. Publishing on domains where the environments and advertisements are congruent 

If brands want to have a higher impact in their footprint, they should consider strategies that focus on optimizing for both attention and emissions reduction. This strategy relies on selecting appropriate environments for publishing advertisements. Previous research has shown that brand outcomes improve when the brand message aligns with the context in which it is placed, known as congruence (Belanche et al., 2021; Alonso Dos Santos & Calabuig Moreno, 2018). For example, placing a fashion ad on a fashion page is likely to result in higher Attention Times compared to placing the same ad on a sports-related domain. Optimizing campaigns based on Attention Time is a proactive strategy that effectively reduces CO2 emissions. Brands seeking to lower their emissions should recognize that even small changes in campaign execution can have significant effects without compromising campaign outcomes.


Want to learn more about sustainability in digital advertising? 

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