Are You Going to Pay (for) Attention? OR Why MFAs Might Turn Into MFAs

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Written by Brook Schaaf

Flashback to last summer: The Association of National Advertisers released a blockbuster study on waste in the global open web programmatic space. The press release stated that “the current $88 billion open web programmatic media ecosystem is rife with waste” and that “as much as $20 billion” could be saved with better controls. 

Much of this waste was associated with Made for Advertising (MFA) websites, which generally feature low-quality content alongside spammy ads. These sites are designed to take in as many dollars as possible without concern for delivering any real value, and account for an estimated 15% of the aforementioned $88 billion. (Consider this alongside ongoing criticism that an estimated 8.5% of all paid traffic may be invalid.) 

The MFA waste caused a kerfuffle in the programmatic world that gets mentioned on podcasts and posts to this day.

It seems to me there is a connection between this and a word that popped up on my radar earlier this year, namely that distrust in the open web programmatic space may lead to a push for a new anchor metric — attention. The first example I noticed was on The Rebooting Show’s “Life after the pageview” episode (the title pretty much sums up my point). 

The concept of attention monitoring is certainly not new, but there seems to be a focus on developing a new anchor metric or methodology, as with an “Attention Unit,” “Meaningful Ad Unit,” or “Effectiveness Suite.” Digiday covered the topic from multiple angles (addressing attention first and debating whether attention is a KPI or a currency), and TechCrunch posted a getting-started article a year and a half ago.

Consider me a skeptic, because attention seems even more likely to be gamed than impressions or viewability. Of course, the motivation for pushing it anyway is obvious: It’s a justification for dollars to flow, including to new vendors. As an opinion columnist put it, “Attention as a value metric is no better than its predecessors, and it only compounds the measurement problem by combining metrics that aren’t fully baked. Attention is a complicated black box that heavily favors buyers (fine) and blinds publishers (boo).”

That said, if this scheme gets traction, old MFAs could become new MFAs, swapping out “advertising” for “attention” for billions of dollars. More waste. 

I happen to know a channel where that money might be better spent. While I admit I’m not sure how to put dollars to better use in the affiliate channel, it seems that we might begin with another A: awareness. 

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