Why attention and viewability should be seen as an extension of brand safety

The trend of consumers holding brands accountable for where ads are delivered—and for out-of-context and poorly targeted ads—has become unmistakable. Hearts coined this occurrence years ago as “negative reach” and identified steps to avoid it. According to our research from 2017, 33% of Millennials and Gen Xers stated they were unsure if the brand was responsible for their ad appearing in unsafe content.

Since then, consumers have placed even more responsibility on the brands to manage where their inventory appears. According to an IAS 2020 study, 51% of consumers now hold brands responsible for where their ads show up.

39% of consumers said they would stop buying brands that showed up in poor environments.

It’s clear that aligning your message with qualitative parameters that reflect brand values can lead to increased media effectiveness. It’s also apparent that focusing on the right qualitative inputs at the time of campaign setup can help drive the business forward while avoiding any embarrassing headlines.

Our process for ensuring media quality at Hearts & Science is a feedback loop with four pillars.

  1. Create a set of guidelines with key buying inputs, such as desirable media environments and ones to proactively avoid, for each client.
  2. Apply those guidelines in vendor T&Cs for ad-tech partners to deliver against.
  3. Evaluate adherence to optimize performance and secure financial restitution when guidelines aren’t followed.
  4. Incorporate learnings to refine guidelines and campaign setup.


We’re not alone in prioritizing media quality. In a recent ANA study, brand safety was named as one of the top five most important KPIs when assessing the value and effectiveness of paid advertising—with 59% of respondents saying it’s among the most important.

Upholding brand safety in digital media

Due to the enormous volume of digital inventory and widespread use of programmatic buying, a set of guidelines and IO terms can’t adequately assure quality where digital media is concerned. We are also at a tipping point for investment scale, with digital video spending expected to account for 56% of all video spend in 2021, surpassing linear TV’s 41% share.

The volume of digital will only grow as more consumption shifts to the medium in 2022—this growth calls for a heightened focus on qualitative procedures for digital.

Unlike traditional channels, digital channels can leverage real-time solutions to ensure media quality, making brands less reliant on human evaluation.

Even when purchasing media in more controlled environments like PMPs (Private Market Places) where inventory is curated directly from a set list of publishers, digital media buyers can leverage data in real time to provide additional protections. Third party vendors in the marketplace offer pre-bid, pre-serve, and post-serve solutions that let marketers leverage data to purchase against an inclusion/exclusion list of sites. They also offer parameters like contextual relevance, keywords, categorical safety segments and geography.

Beyond the open web, UGC (User Generated Content) platforms which come with a unique set of risks are even expanding options in platform and via 3rd parties to provide protections to brands. YouTube has an internal brand safety filter, and has been with 3rd party vendors like Channel Factory to evaluate content. Facebook is working to expand its in-news feed brand safety settings by the end of 2021.

Evolving the definition of quality to include viewability and attention

With brand safety in the context of media environments coming to be seen as table stakes by clients and consumers alike, marketers should sharpen their focus on advanced quality metrics like viewability.

They should also look to build beyond the core KPI to include a deeper focus on attention. Viewability, defined as 50% of an ad appearing on screen for 1 or more seconds for display and 2 seconds for video by the MRC, is not a new metric to the digital ecosystem. It has been a core focus for marketer investments since we now know in real time whether an ad has been seen or not and can actually produce the desired outcome.

By including viewability as a core campaign KPI and ensuring that ads are appearing on screen in the suitable environments, advertisers can improve business outcomes.

In fact, 69% of consumers report that they’re more likely to look at an ad if it’s relevant to the content they’re consuming, according to DoubleVerify’s 2020 Global Insights Report.

With U.S. viewability rates reaching 64% and 66% in 2020 for display and video, respectively, (DoubleVerify, 2020), it’s critical that agencies and brands expand available quality improvements to include key attention metrics.

These include Time on Screen, Audio On/Off, Ad clutter (the volume of all Ads present on a page at a given time), and Ad collision (the number of ads from your same campaign appearing on a page at the same time). These additions maximize the probability a consumer acts on your ad.

Hearts & Science is currently evaluating and working with partners to include feedback on attention metrics in real time to optimize performance. These partners evaluate attention at a creative level, track facial scanning for opt-in participants to follow human gaze and viewability metrics on social platforms, and capture frame by frame performance metrics for mobile video.

All of these can be used to improve the quality of the ads being viewed.

How does an increased focus on attention metrics impact performance?

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. Our measurement coverage with Crossix allows us to track back Audience Quality and New Patient Starts to ad exposure for Digital campaigns.

While the future coverage of Crossix measurement is in question due to identity deprecation, we’re able to see today how improvements in viewability and a focus on more advanced attention metrics impact our ultimate performance goals.

By aggressively testing multiple attention optimization strategies in BH ’21, we can identify which metrics are most predictive of down-funnel performance, providing us with a reliable optimization signal that is future-proofed against identity attribution challenges posed by identity deprecation.


Through our four-part approach of establishing qualitative parameters, implementing them into the supply chain, evaluating delivery against the parameters, and adjusting performance for quality expectations as necessary, our clients can ensure ads are delivered in contextually relevant and suitable environments.

But since consumer engagement with an ad is just as important as brand safety, marketers should also leverage metrics like viewability and attention to improve media quality and, ultimately, ad spend effectiveness.