Ads Driving Higher Attention Can Cut Carbon Emissions by 63%

Ad-tech firm Playground xyz measures attention with eye tracking

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As it turns out, serving digital ads to real human eyeballs is good not just for advertisers but also the planet.

A report from attention-based ad-tech platform Playground xyz used emissions data from Scope3 to show that serving ads that drive higher attention metrics cuts carbon emissions.

“We wanted to merge these two worlds: One track is advertisers going after ad effectiveness by attention, and another is trying to curb or remove carbon emissions,” Rob Hall, CEO of Playground xyz, explained to Adweek. “We thought, are these two things mutually exclusive? Or is there a win-win where you can increase ad effectiveness with attention and reduce carbon emissions at the same time?”

Playground xyz measured the impact that its attention-based strategy—measured by eye tracking—has on carbon emissions, and found that by cutting ads from domains where people only paid attention to the ad for less than half a second, emissions fell by 63% on average and attention time increased by 40%.

The climate-related benefits of attention-based metrics could accelerate the industry’s shift away from more fraud-prone and wasteful metrics like impressions or certain ways of measuring viewability.

The report comes just weeks after parent company GumGum announced it’s partnering with carbon measurement platform Cedara to work toward net zero emissions. It’s part of a broader, industrywide shift to curb the unnecessary emissions generated by the programmatic advertising industry.

The ad-tech firm hired consumer neuroscientist Shannon Bosshard last November to lead the research. Released today, the report, Sustainable Attention, exposes some of the problems created by brands’ emission reduction strategies that simply remove publisher and platform domain names from the publisher pool based only on their level of emissions.

“There’s no linear relationship between the emissions that a [brand’s ad] produces and its effectiveness,” Bosshard said. “For that reason, it required a deeper dive.”

Given the varying success rates that different advertisers will see on the same publisher’s site or platform, cutting certain sites out altogether doesn’t always serve the end goal of driving effectiveness for both efficiency and emissions. Instead, finding that overlap by using attention-based metrics allows advertisers to opt-in only on the effective domains.

To measure what Playground xyz calls attention time, the firm uses eye-tracking panels and AI modeling to determine which ad placements actually capture viewer attention.

Using a privacy-compliant framework, the firm assembles panels of “real people looking at real websites with real ads on them, and we’re tracking where they’re looking,” Hall explained. From there, Playground xyz feeds all the data collected into artificial intelligence to build predictive models for the real world. The AI then predicts, based on that panel data, which ads will be seen and for how long, depending on the platform, placement and context.

“It’s a deterministic set of data from the panel and a probabilistic AI that helps it scale,” Hall said.

To determine how that attention-based data interacts with the climate impact of digital advertising, it incorporates emissions data from ad-tech company Scope3, which uses supply path optimization strategies to eliminate unnecessary, emissions-heavy tech from the programmatic supply chain.

“When the ecosystem was created, no one was thinking about the carbon impact of spinning up millions of servers and having all of these different companies talking to each other to decide which ad gets shown where,” explained Anne Coghlan, co-founder of Scope3.

“There is a thesis, which is starting to be proven out by studies like this one from Playground xyz,” she added, “that a more effective ecosystem and more effective advertising go hand-in-hand with a cleaner ecosystem from a carbon perspective.”

Playground xyz clients, which include brands like Under Armour, KFC and Suzuki, will be able to measure carbon emissions alongside attention-based metrics through its Attention Intelligence Platform starting in the second quarter. While Playground xyz’s ad operations team will run campaigns on behalf of clients, it will also be available as a self-serve platform for advertisers to use programmatically.

“Attention tech mixed with carbon emission tech can save the planet,” Hall said. “Bit by bit.”

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