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Why Purina’s premium brand sees eye-tracking as a viable replacement for third-party cookies

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Amid the dragged-out demise of the third-party cookie, marketers everywhere are experimenting with alternative means of measuring campaign effectiveness. Tracking the eye movements of cat and dog owners could be one of them.

Lily’s Kitchen, a premium brand owned by pet food giant Nestlé Purina, has begun to incorporate eye-tracking audience panels into its campaign measurement with the aim of using audience attention — measured in the seconds spent actually looking at an ad — as a proxy for ad effectiveness. The move follows a test campaign launched in the run-up to Black Friday last year that increased sales by 20%, marketers working for the brand told Digiday.

Though eye-tracking isn’t a new technology, using it as one of the primary measures of performance for a brand campaign is unusual. Despite that, Lily’s Kitchen’s “first foray” into programmatic video presented a chance to pilot the technique, said Pablo Lalor, the brand’s head of e-commerce.

“We’re reaching more pet owners every year and we’re always looking for new avenues for that,” he said. The brand worked with U.K and U.S-based performance agency Journey Further for the test.

According to Tom Bottomley, head of programmatic at the agency, the pilot was an explicit test of an alternative means of measurement to replace cookies. “Everyone’s looking for more privacy-centric, non ID-based kind of targeting and measurement methods,” he said.

A test like this sits firmly in the realm of the experimental. Michael Kania, associate vp of marketing at performance shop Kepler Group, told Digiday that his company hasn’t had much interest from marketers looking to utilize eye-tracking as an effectiveness measure.

“We have not had any clients explore eye tracking as a measurement solution nor have we explored any partners engaging with eye tracking as a measurement solution,” he said, before adding that there is merit in the solution.

“Eye tracking is a unique evolution that might see increasing interest and value as adoption in visual wearables, and VR/AR headsets expands. The ability for advertisers to validate or challenge the impact of the second screen and track against true interest could help advertisers establish increased confidence in their creativity,” Kania said.

Lily’s Kitchen’s test campaign ran between September and November last year, a key period for the direct-to-consumer brand in the run-up to Black Friday. Lalor said the brand aimed to target U.K. pet owners in their mid-20s to late-30s — people who consider their cats and dogs part of the family (on par with a child) and, therefore, see them as deserving of pricier grub.

To do that, the brand put in-house creative developed by Lily’s Kitchen to work on banner display ads, as well as Teads InRead and outstream video formats, including some interactive video units, on a wide range of publisher sites. Those ads were served to 1,000-strong research panels by eye-tracking ad specialist Lumen, which tracked how long each viewer dwelled on an ad.

Throughout that three-month period, the team made attentive seconds per mille (APM) their primary effectiveness metric. “We optimized on a day-to-day level as we started to get data through, understanding what creative, what sizes and what domains would drive better APM,” said Journey Further’s Bottomley.

Brand lift studies were used to monitor any rises in brand awareness, consideration and purchase intent during the campaign period. Although Bottomley said APM was the only metric tracked by the team, Lily’s Kitchen also found room in the budget for media placements not monitored this way, such as Netflix and Spotify ads.

By the end of the three months, those lift studies showed a 15% increase in brand awareness among target audiences, and a 23% increase in purchase intent. Crucially, audiences exposed to the ad creative rated highly for APM earlier in the campaign reported a 44% increase in brand awareness.

Lalor said that translated into a 22% increase in new customers buying from the Lily’s Kitchen site in November, and a 13% year-on-year revenue rise during the eight-day Black Friday/Cyber Monday window, though he declined to share sales figures or brand awareness ratings for the previous year.

On the back of the test campaign, Lily’s Kitchen’s team incorporated the attention proxy approach into its always-on advertising from February onward, with a redoubled focus on video and interactive video inventory. Despite a smaller budget than its autumn work and less supplemental activity, Lalor said commercial results were holding.

“It’s been running since February, and it’s delivering good results. We’ve picked up some learnings from what performed well in the previous campaign, tweaked it up slightly and it’s still performing very much in line,” said Lalor.

Lalor declined to say how much budget Lily’s Kitchen had put behind the test campaign or its more recent activity, but Bottomley told Digiday that a campaign using attention as a proxy could be staged with as little as $12,700.

Kepler Group’s Kania suggested that attention might only be useful as a measure of effectiveness for top-of-funnel activity. “Attention might be for any variety of reasons separate from purchase intent. The potential metrics provided by eye-tracking would still live in a silo that provides insight, but won’t answer every question on media effectiveness,” he said. Given Lalor’s aim has been to boost brand awareness, that won’t bother Lily’s Kitchen.

But Bottomley said the test had proven APM could be an effective measure of ad effectiveness, though he was skeptical it could be the main measure in the long run.

“From our initial testing it has earned a seat at the table in that place,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it is going to be the only way — I think all measurement frameworks in the future will be a series of different options all working together.”

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