1onlineOpinions on ‘what makes a good ad’ may be divided, but there is general consensus that creativity in advertising aims to stimulate a positive reaction towards a brand.

“Until now, click-through rates and impressions have dominated digital measurement and evaluation, ignoring the mass of empirical evidence that proves the importance of creativity in building brands”, Microsoft Advertising is stating in its report “Dwell on Branding”, which aims to prove that there is a clear connection between the level of active engagement an online ad generates and its subsequent impact on the brand. Thus, Microsoft partnered with ad serving experts Eyeblaster and measurement specialists comScore to understand the impact of dwell on branding.

By taking a sample of ten high dwell and ten low dwell campaigns to compare their brand effects they ensured that any positive brand uplift observed was exclusively due to the increase in dwell.

ComScore identified the users who had been exposed to the ads, measured those panellists’ subsequent online behaviour across a four week period, and compared this to the online behaviour of unexposed panellists, according to specific demographic and online behavioural variables such as age, gender, income, region, historical online surfing behaviour, visits to sites where the ads were displayed and to brand sites, as well as online search behaviour.

The study, conducted across twenty different online advertising campaigns in Europe over six months, explored the effect of dwell scores on consumer behaviour, and could be useful as benchmark for the Asian markets.

So, take a glance at the following brief summary to get some insights.

Let’s dwell on branding

The study analysed the power of dwell scores in the context of brand building campaigns. Dwell scores are an accepted measure of users’ active engagement with advertising and are calculated by multiplying the amount of time a user spends actively engaging with an ad -  such as positioning the mouse over an ad, user-initiated videos, user initiated expansion and custom interaction. By the way, actions lasting less than one second have been excluded as deemed unintentional.

Since direct response campaigns evaluate their success on consumers’ instantaneous uptake, a click-through rate is a more suitable measure for this type of campaign, as it directly correlates to the objective. However, brand building campaigns are cumulative in nature and there is no observed correlation between display ad clicks and longer-term brand building metrics. In fact, numerous studies make clear that focusing on the click alone considers only a tiny fraction of the economic value of an online advertising campaign.

Achieving high dwell

In order to know what to aim for and how to judge success, using dwell is the first step. However, the difficulty is in adapting campaigns to achieve these high scores. While creativity is key, ad formats also plays a role in helping to give good creativity the impact it deserves.

The chart below shows dwell scores and click-through rates for various creative formats. It shows that there is no correlation between the two measures. That is to say, a format that is good at driving click-throughs is not necessarily good at driving dwell. The message for brand advertisers is to maintain focus on employing the correct tools and tactics to deliver higher levels of engagement, not necessarily an instant response. So, there is a clear requirement for online brand advertising to be measured differently from direct response.

Online1However, until now there has been no standard measure for evaluating brand campaign impact online. By demonstrating their positive link to brand effects, the ‘Dwell on Branding’ research asserts that dwell scores should become a standard measure for online brand campaigns.

Microsoft was using the definition of Total Dwell, as defined by Eyeblaster, in the report.

Total Dwell = Dwell Rate x Dwell Time

Dwell Rate: The number of impressions that were dwelled upon out of all impressions.

Dwell Time: The average duration spent dwelling/actively engaging on the ad.

The advantage of using a total dwell score is that it incorporates both a quantitative measure and a measure of quality. It enables marketers to compare the effects of numerous variables and map this to brand effects. Of course, dwell scores are limited to rich media advertising - such as video, audio or dynamic data ads - as these are the only form of online advertising with an interactive element that allows active engagement to happen.

As far as online measures of brand engagement were concerned, higher dwell scores lead to:

  • More branded searches - While those exposed to low dwell campaigns were 12% more likely to use branded search terms, for high dwell campaigns that number rose to 39%, more than three times the uplift.
  • More traffic to the brand site - High dwell campaigns drove a 125% point positive swing in page views per visitor and an 83% point swing in minutes per visitor.
  • More engagement at the brand site - Low dwell campaigns caused a 10% uplift in visits to brand sites between unexposed and exposed, while high dwell campaigns delivered a 17% uplift, an increase of 70%.

According to Eyeblaster data, anything above 4.6 can be considered high dwell and should be the target for every campaign. But it is possible to be more relevant though, by looking at dwell scores by industry vertical.


It is perhaps not surprising to see Entertainment achieving the highest scores, thanks to engaging creative assets such as film trailers, but it may be more surprising to see Finance in third place.

The performance of Finance campaigns demonstrates that it is possible for any vertical to create engaging ad campaigns. Large Finance clients have embraced online advertising, using it as a vehicle to communicate to their young consumers through a variety of creative online techniques.

The findings give brand advertisers a new set of rules:

  • Online brand advertising should be planned and executed distinctly from direct response.
  • Focus on creativity in advertising to drive engagement and build brand.
  • Use rich media to make full use of the creative opportunities available online.
  • Use dwell scores instead of click-throughs to measure brand campaign success.

With these findings Microsoft Advertising has shown that dwell provides a valuable metric in evaluating the success of brand campaigns. The results conclusively show that the higher the dwell score an online ad achieves, the more positive consumer’s subsequent behaviour towards the brand will be.

By Daniela La Marca