Online ad engagement can be doubled if the right image is chosen

ad engagement

New research reveals that simple images which mirror target demographics are key to capturing attention.

Marketers selecting the correct images can double the amount of time their online ads are viewed on desktop, a study revealed today.

The research was commissioned to identify the types of images that had the highest engagement factor and dwell times. It found that simple image-led online ads which mirror the demographic profile of those they are targeting perform the best when measuring viewability and dwell time. The top performing ad was viewed for 1.4 seconds, compared to a benchmark dwell time of 0.7 seconds.

The study found that on average, males are more responsive to online ads than females, where they viewed or noticed almost a third of all ads in the study, whereas females viewed or noticed just a quarter. Furthermore, men looked at the ads for 0.4 seconds longer than women.

Image-led ads featuring children are more engaging to parents, the study found. Those with children viewed 25 per cent of these ads for an average of 1.3 seconds whilst those without children viewed 22 per cent of these ads for an average of 0.8 seconds.

The research revealed that image-led ads featuring images of an elderly couple were viewed more by those ages 55+, with half of those in this age range viewing the ads. Only a third of those ages 18-34 viewed the ads and 38 per cent of those ages 35-54 viewed the ads.

The study was conducted in two phases. in the first phase, panellists were shown 65 images in a randomised order to decipher which were the most engaging. In the second phase, the top, middle and bottom performing images from the first study were used to create 16 image-led ads. These ads were then shown to a panel of individuals, within a typical online browsing environment. Throughout the entire study, panellists’ eye movements were tracked to measure engagement.

From the first phase, more complex images designed to illicit emotions such as anger and confusion had the highest engagement factor, whereas images evoking surprise and happiness had the lowest. However, out of the images which had the highest engagement factor when shown in a non-ad environment, only 40% of them were viewed longer than the 0.7 seconds benchmark, when shown in a typical online browsing environment. The top performing images from the second phase were typically bolder and simpler in composition.

Jeff Weiser, Chief Marketing Officer, Shutterstock, commented: “With this research we wanted to get to the heart of what makes an engaging ad online. It’s notoriously hard to prove the effectiveness of online ads but this study goes a long way to showcasing what type of images engage viewers and therefore what kinds of ads are most effective. For marketers looking to produce online ad campaigns, they should seek to use simple imagery that appeals to the target demographic.”

Mike Follett, Managing Director, Lumen, said: “With our eye-tracking technology we’re able to see first-hand what consumers are looking at and why they’re looking at it. This puts a lot of power in the hands of art directors and visual creatives as it enables them to make informed decisions regarding the imagery that they choose.”

Overall, when viewing images, the eye-tracking technology revealed:

Faces grab attention quickly: they are often the first thing that people look at
Busy images can split attention: not everyone is attracted to the same part of the image straight away
When the image does not have a key focal point, attention begins in the middle, before spreading to the rest of the image