Attention grabbers or action drivers? Heineken’s ad tests uncork surprising results

Having ads that capture attention is great, but do they actually drive responses? That’s the big question Heineken’s marketers are trying to answer these days.

In fact, they’ve been tackling this since late 2024, collaborating with attention metrics company Playground xyz to study how much attention their ads need to elicit a reaction. The answer? It varies based on several factors, from the platform to the creative content.

The ads in question were part of the first online ad campaign for Heineken’s Spanish lager brand Cruzcampo in the U.K., which ran between October and December. No matter where they ran, these ads were crafted to hook people immediately.

On YouTube, Cruzcampo’s video ads needed just 0.5 seconds to start making waves, outpacing many other brands. Awareness among viewers who hit this mark soared by 28%, a whopping 3.5 times the baseline. Over on Instagram and Facebook, Cruzcampo didn’t lag either. Ads grabbed Optimal Attention in just 0.6 seconds, boosting awareness by up to 20%, or 2.5 times the baseline.

“We realized that we could have really high attention with our advertising but not get anything from it in terms of recall or awareness, for example,” said Daniel Glynn, programmatic lead at Heineken.

So much for the idea that more attention means better performance. It’s actually more nuanced. Sometimes, ads don’t need much attention to lift brand awareness, as Cruzcampo’s campaign clearly showed. Indeed, the marketers behind the beer likely knew they weren’t going to capture much attention to begin with. After all, the ads ran on social media, where attention is fleeting at best and passive at worst. That’s why they front-loaded the branding — think pack shots right at the beginning of the videos.

“It sounds obvious when you think about it but the learnings we’re able to apply to our thinking moving forward are key,” said Glynn.

Take the approach to ads showcasing the beer, for instance. Does Heineken need to spend more than six to 10 seconds showcasing pack shots of Cruzcampo in a programmatic ad? Probably not, if people are recalling the brand much sooner into the ad.

This has interesting implications for Heineken’s ad buying strategy. If the threshold to drive awareness is relatively short, they can focus on cheaper media placements, increasing reach in a more cost-effective way.

“This allows us to understand how much we need to start to invest in BAU [Business As Usual] short ads, which are bought on awareness (i.e. a lower CPM) compared to how we much we should be investing in longer-form editorial influencer content,” said Jimmy Hughes, social media lead at Heineken.

And that’s just for Cruzcampo. Heineken has many other beers, each with its own pace for capturing attention. Figuring all of this out will take time, especially since Heineken’s ads are now spread across several platforms and creators.

“This allows us to start to understand what type of content drives attention for our brands so that we can start to optimize towards attention and make our budget and creative work harder,” said Hughes.

His point about optimization takes on a different dimension considering how much the measurement landscape will change when third-party cookies disappear. Attention metrics could be one of several alternatives that eventually fill the gap left by cookies.

“If we can’t get anything back [from ads] about what’s driving business metrics then brands are going to spend their money elsewhere,” said Glynn. “We need to be able to provide those metrics, which is why correlations between attention, and brand uplift are really key for us.”

Moves like this can only do so much for an advertiser like Heineken and the industry at large. The market for attention is fragmented, which is an anathema to anything achieving genuine scale — let alone an ad metric. Only when there’s some consensus on the right ways to understand attention can it evolve beyond something advertisers test and learn from.

“Comprehensive and integrated approaches must be widely adopted for audience-based metrics to be relevant to advertisers,” said Bill Schild, general manager of the Americas at Channel Factory. “This means priority needs to be placed on more meaningful outcome-based metrics, such as cost per acquisition or engagement, rather than traditional metrics like CPMs.”

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