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The Attention Dimension: How the NBA Uses Attention Metrics to Reimagine Cross-channel Planning & Buying

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Attention metrics have matured from a tactic to an essential component of brand marketing stacks. A few household name brands are leading this charge, including the National Basketball Association and its media buying partner, Mediahub.

The NBA’s journey with attention began last year when its digital media team realized the need for a more effective real-time metric tied to larger brand KPIs. As Larisa Johnson, NBA’s VP of paid media and CRM, said in an interview with AdExchanger, “With business metrics only being available-post-flight, we were previously operating in the dark while the campaign was live.”

To solve this challenge, the NBA and Mediahub partnered with Adelaide to measure media quality across digital and CTV for its postseason campaign. The success of these efforts led to the adoption of AU, Adelaide’s attention-based metric, as its main in-flight KPI, and the development of an “Attention Everywhere” strategy.

To learn more about what Attention Everywhere means to the NBA and how attention metrics have helped drive better outcomes, Marc Guldimann, CEO of Adelaide, spoke with Yasmin Mitchell, Campaign Analytics Lead at the NBA:

What drove your initial interest in attention metrics?

At the start of 2021, it was clear to our digital team that traditional metrics were holding us back. Front-end metrics like viewability don’t provide a real-time look into expected outcomes and fail to give our teams clear guidance into optimal budget allocation across formats, partners, channels, campaign efforts, and so on. Our team held a fundamental belief that there had to be a better way to measure and buy media.

Yasmin Mitchell, Campaign Analytics Lead at the NBA
Front-end metrics like viewability don’t provide a real-time look into expected outcomes and fail to give our teams clear guidance into optimal budget.

Mediahub introduced the NBA to Adelaide, and the results of our postseason campaign proved AU’s correlation with our KPIs, brand lift and tune-in. Users exposed to high-AU media had a 36% higher tune-in rate compared to low-AU users. For OLV, we found that AU varied by more than 20x across domains, giving our media teams a clear way to see which media was most likely to drive our desired outcomes. Focusing our budget on high-attention placements contributed to a 32% overall increase in viewership of the NBA Finals compared to 2020.

As Lead on TV measurement and campaign analytics at the NBA, these results piqued my interest, but what’s especially intriguing is AU’s ability to more accurately gauge relative media quality across channels.

How have attention metrics helped the NBA achieve better brand outcomes thus far, and how do you envision attention influencing the brand’s investment strategy in the future?

Using a metric trained to predict our KPIs enabled our teams to identify which placements were delivering value and how to allocate media dollars (in flight) to achieve better performance, contributing to a 32% increase in overall viewership of the NBA finals year-over-year.

Looking toward the future, we are pursuing an Attention Everywhere strategy and partnering with Adelaide to expand AU measurement into new channels.

We’ve started measuring AU in Walled Garden environments, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to compare media quality across social, digital, and CTV. For example, we found that CTV tracks the highest AU ratings, but its higher CPMs drive up cost per AU, making social and OLV the most efficient.

In programmatic, we’re testing AU-based custom-bidding algorithms to maximize AU dynamically. We are also beta-testing AU measurement for linear TV to capture attention insights across genres, time of day, and more.

While we are still in the early stages of linear measurement, the ability to compare the attention potential of TV media with those on digital, programmatic, CTV, and social will be a gamechanger for maximizing value across our media investment — and something that isn’t possible with other existing metrics. This is crucial to the success of measuring marketing campaigns as audience fragmentation and consumption across multiple platforms continues to be a challenge.

The ability to compare the attention potential of TV media with those on digital, programmatic, CTV, and social will be a gamechanger.

I expect that the NBA will continue to use AU for channel planning and in-flight optimization and lean into attention measurement across new environments to evaluate media value across platforms and channels.

What are some challenges attention metrics are helping to solve for the NBA?

Attention metrics have helped our teams drive better results, reduce wasted ad spend, and gain a multidimensional perspective of media quality.

AU has helped uncover opportunities to invest in efficient, high-quality media and shift budget away from low-value media. It also allows our teams to justify the cost of certain premium placements, by proving their contribution to outcomes. And with the ability to connect ad exposures to outcomes without user IDs, attention metrics serve as a privacy-friendly alternative to cookie-based attribution.

Now, we’ve started measuring AU across programmatic and linear in hopes of further informing and refining how we think about consumer journeys and channel planning strategies.

Longer-term, how do you see attention metrics transforming the media industry/market?

I expect that more brands will turn to attention metrics as a multi-touch attribution solution that more accurately measures the impact of each channel on bottom-line outcomes.

The NBA has already realized an opportunity to continuously analyze how we approach Media Mix Modeling amidst an ever-changing ecosystem. While traditional media mix models treat impressions within a channel as though they are equal in quality, attention metrics can add meaningful differentiation between placements to improve MMM performance and generate more precise recommendations that result in consistent outcomes.

As leading brands continue to demonstrate the advantages of attention metrics, advertisers will lean into more innovative omnichannel strategies, and the demand for high-quality media with a high propensity for attention will increase.

What advice do you have for brands looking to get their feet wet with attention metrics?

Advertisers ultimately want to drive brand and business outcomes — not viewability, reach, clicks, or frequency. Reliance on blunt metrics not tied to larger business goals limits marketers’ ability to make smart investment decisions and can even damage a brand’s ROI.

Attention metrics can introduce a much-needed vector into reach and frequency models by dimensionalizing the quality of ad exposures across channels. However, marketers must ensure they use multidimensional attention metrics that capture the many quality signals proven to affect a placement or TV spot’s ability to capture attention and contribute to outcomes.

Finally, attention metrics must be tuned to proxy the outcomes you seek since that is the end goal after all.

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