Carbon emissions from digital ads fall 63% when optimised for attention time

With digital technology accounting for 4% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, data reveals an opportunity for marketers to minimise their campaign’s impact on CO2 while improving overall effectiveness.

Research has identified that when digital ad campaigns are optimised for attention time, carbon emissions are reduced by an average of 63%.

A study from attention measurement and optimisation company Playground xyz leveraged Scope3 data that examined 45 million ad impressions. It uncovered that the average digital ad campaign releases 5.4 tons of carbon into the atmosphere – 35% more than what the average person emits in an entire year. ​​

Using AI-led eye tracking panel data, Playground xyz and Scope3 were able to better understand attention time and accurately define how long an ad is actually viewed. They discovered that 40% of online ads are not viewed, despite being visible on screen, and 15.3% of advertising spend is wasted on inventory that delivers no valuable brand outcomes and generates excessive amounts of CO2 emissions.

According to the findings, by removing advertising from domains where attention time is less than 0.5 seconds, total emissions fall by an average of 63%, while the average attention time per impressions grows by almost 40%. The data further suggests that marketers can reduce their emissions by almost 60% by removing the top 20% most-polluting web domains from ad campaigns.

This presents an opportunity for advertisers to use these attention time insights to take action and reassess the digital environments in which they place ads, hopefully optimising for increased attention and engagement while minimising waste.

Dr. Shannon Bosshard, Playground’s lead scientist, who led the study, said: “To date, attention signals have been well-established metrics capable of informing advertising effectiveness, but the current data supports the notion that beyond increasing effectiveness, attention measurement presents opportunities for advertisers to be more sustainable.”

The need to decrease the digital carbon footprint

Dr Bosshard continued: “Historically, it has been inherently difficult to measure online emissions and optimise digital advertising towards decreasing it. However, combined with solutions from the likes of Scope3, attention signals are a metric through which more environmentally conscientious advertising becomes the expected standard.”

Currently, digital technology accounts for 4% of total global greenhouse gas emissions and is reportedly increasing at a rate of 9% each year. With the target of net zero set for 2050 and a desired 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, asserted at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last year, there is increasing pressure on digital [advertisers?] to minimise its carbon impact.

June Cheung, head of JAPAC at Scope3, said: “The study proves our industry can do good for the planet but also improve the effectiveness of media investments by adding a carbon lens.

“People often ask, by being sustainable will we be sacrificing performance and profits? The answer is no; sustainability offers an opportunity for us to optimise towards effectiveness, for example optimising attention and in turn reducing carbon emissions.”