Critics Favor Low-Performing Ads for their “Top Rank” Lists

Critics’ picks versus people’s choice awards always illuminate the differences among what is popular, what is interesting to insiders, and what is important based on some valued criteria.

That largely explains why no critic’s annual list of top ad creatives resembles any other critic’s top list, according to Realeyes’ analysis of nine such lists from authoritative advertising trade publications, plus YouTube.

What happens when you put more science or objectivity into the mix? We wanted to know how a cross-section of ads recognized as “Best of 2020” among leading ad-industry watchers performed according to real human attention — not votes, opinions or trending algorithms. We turned to our attention measurement to do just that.


What you need to know

  • Only 6 ad creatives from our cross-critic sample of 25 ads were featured in more than one expert list, suggesting widespread disagreement in what defines a great ad.
  • Pundits are most likely to pick low-performing ads for their top lists, with 16 ad creatives, or 64%, receiving a Quality Score between 0 and 4.
  • Only 2 ad creatives were high attention performers across U.S. and U.K. markets, achieving a Realeyes Quality Score between 7 and 10.
  • The top U.S. ad was Match’s “Match Made In Hell” with a Quality Score of 8, and the U.K.’s top ad was the National Centre for Domestic Violence’s “Abusers always work from home” with a Quality Score of 7.

Our sample of 25 highly rated ads were sourced from 2020 top lists from AdAge, AdForum, AdWeek, Campaign, Contagious, Creative Review, The Drum, Forbes, Marketing Week and YouTube. Many lists featured videos greater than 90 seconds –resembling mini feature films We omitted those long-form video to focus on ad creatives more suitable for wide-scale distribution in paid-media campaigns, where brevity is prized.

Additional brands featured in the “The Critic’s Review” report include: The Automobile Association, B&Q, BrewDog, Budweiser, Burger King, Geico, GMC, Direct Line, DoorDash, Expedia, ITV, KFC, Lifebuoy, Match, McDonald’s, Mint Mobile, Ocean Spray, Patagonia, Tesco, Starbucks, TikTok and Travis Scott and Fortnight.

Conclusion: While critics get the luxury of watching ads on demand, those very ads must earn their keep by capturing attention and winning the hearts of consumers. Advertisers that deploy stronger creatives against audiences the audiences the pay heavily to access will achieve greater attentive reach. Attention is a prerequisite on the path to both near-term sales and long-term brand equity.

Perhaps it is time for adland to stop paying attention to the so-called experts when it comes to recognizing the best creative. Instead, the industry should start paying attention to creatives that actually move the needle on measurable attention and brand impact.

Realeyes Wins AI Excellence Awards for Attention Measurement Solution

Yes. we proudly announce that our flagship as testing product PreView was named a winner in The Business Intelligence Group’s Artificial Intelligence Excellence Awards program.

PreView enables brands to maximize attentive reach of their video advertising campaigns by understanding how creative drives attention and generates emotional response — even before a campaign launches. PreView calculates a video creative’s in-market performance by measuring: Capture, the ability to hook attention in the first seconds; Retain, the ability to retain audience attentiveness until the end; and Encode, the ability for brand messaging to create emotional response and memorability.

TikTok UGC and Brand Videos Outperform Other Ad Formats In Driving Attention In Mobile

The popularity of TikTok is surging thanks to the app’s ability to empower people to create, share and discover highly engaging video content. As users of the app quickly learn, TikToks unlocks creativity and authenticity that make for highly luring videos. These videos often feature the world’s largest consumer brands, stemming from both amateur creators, professional creators and the brands themselves.

To help brands understand the potential of TikTok, we independently tested in mobile environment user-generated (UGC) TikTok videos, brand-generated TikTok videos, recent Facebook ads and other conventional TV-style video ads for 11 major consumer brands. . UGC videos chosen were popular ones tagged to the brand, and many had view counts over one million.

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Key Findings

Both brand and user-generated TikTok videos outperform Facebook and conventional ads on Realeyes Quality Score. TikTok UGC videos scored 22% higher than TikTok brand videos, 32% higher than Facebook ads, and 46% higher than conventional ads.

Super Bowl LV Ads Lose Attention, Media Costs Rise

With a global pandemic and a divisive political climate, Super Bowl LV was an unprecedented year for advertisers to show off their creative chops on one of the grandest advertising stages. Realeyes continued its tradition of tracking human response to these highly anticipated video advertising creatives.

Super Bowl LV Highlights

Average Realeyes Attention Quality Score of ads in Super Bowl LV was 4.3 out of a possible 10, down from 5.5 in 2018. After 3 years of decline, the Quality Score of ads is trending near bottom.

Super Bowl LV Ads - Chart 1 - Creative Performance

The Creative Efficiency of all Super Bowl ads measured was 36%, meaning that the average creative asset applied against 1,000 impressions is estimated to have yielded 360 quality exposures. That means that a reach goal of 1,000 quality exposures would have required 3,160 impressions.

Super Bowl LV Ads - Chart 2 - Creative Efficiency

At $5.6 million per average 30-second spot, $2.0 million of media was invested
efficiently on average while $3.6 million was wasted. The most efficient creative was Reddit’s “Reddit -5s” ad, at 86%, while the lowest was Chipotle’s “Can A Burrito Change The World,” at 19%.”

Super-Bowl LV Chart Media Spend

The top performing ad, with a Quality Score of 9, was “Team Anthony Anderson vs. Team Mama T-Mobile Big Game 2021 Commercial.” Perhaps most notable was Reddit’s 5-second ad with a Quality Score of 7. The remaining top performing 6 ads had a Quality Score of 7:

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  Brand Creative Seconds   Quality Score Capture Retain Encode
01 T-Mobile Family Drama 60   9 6.5 93 95.3
02 Amazon Prime Coming to America II 30   7 5.3 65 81.8
03 H&R Block File Virtually 30   7 5.0 65 71.3
04 Inspiration4 Join The First All-Civilian Space Mission 30   7 5.5 80 65.5
05 NFL As One 60   7 5.2 78 61.2
06 Nintendo Switch Awkwafina plays… Mario Kart 8 Deluxe 30   7 5.0 71 86.0
07 Rocket Mortgage Certain is Better 60   7 5.0 65 91.6
08 Reddit 5-Second Ad 5   7 5.0 53 60.6

Advertising Attention Prediction Tool Wins ‘BIG Innovation Award’

We’re excited to announce we won the 2021 BIG Innovation Awards from Business Intelligence Group for PreView, our tool for measuring human response and predicting attention from advertising creative. PreView  competed along with organizations from across the globe. 

How to Pull Off a 75-Person Company Offsite in VR

In December 2020, Realeyes employees from all over the world gathered for the company’s annual offsite meeting. In previous years, this event has brought together our teams from offices in London, Tokyo, Boston, and Budapest, to meet at an exciting destination for several days of collaboration, connection, and teambuilding. This year was no different – with one notable exception. 

Animation of Realeyes VR Summit

Why Attention in Advertising Is Your Best Path to Sales

Performance and direct-response advertising have become a vital piece of advertisers’ marketing efforts. Why? They immediately link to sales.

But there’s a problem. This type of advertising doesn’t help brands build awareness and grow in the long run.

Advertisers invest much of their time and resources in massive and time-consuming rear-view market studies, making them inefficient when it comes to decision-making or planning. Also, while performance proxies like ROAS are incomparable due to dissimilar attribution windows, CPMs are incompatible because ad formats vary. Finally, brand-lift studies and media effectiveness are often relying on self-reported metrics like surveys which are frequently misused and crude proxies at best.

Presidential Election Video Ads Struggle to Win Attention

Key findings  

  • Biden ads are more effective at luring and sustaining audiences, however both candidates’ ads struggle to engage audiences and drive their message home.
  • Negative and aggressive attack messaging, coupled with longer ad durations, is prompting viewers to tune out earlier than more upbeat positive messaging with shorter duration.
  • Political advertisers should balance rigid talking points with richer storytelling in order to drive greater emotional impact which leads to brand equity of the candidate.


Attention Performance Among Recent Presidential Election Ads  

Presidential election campaign video ads struggle to win attention among U.S. viewers, despite record spending on advertising and paid media in key battleground states as well as nationally.

According a Realeyes study of 11 recent Biden and Trump campaign ads across television and digital channels, Biden video ads achieved an average Realeyes Quality Score of 5 out of 10, making them mid-performers among all political ads in Realeyes’ database. Trump video ads achieved an average Quality Score of 3, designating them as low-performers.  Realeyes Quality Score reveals the attention earning power of a video ad and is predictive of in-market performance.


Drivers of Trump & Biden’s Video Attention Performance 

Quality Score measures the ability of a video creative to: 1) Capture audience attention in the first seconds; 2) Retain audience until the end; and 3) Encode the brand message into the brain through emotional engagement.

Biden and Trump ads differed the most in their ability to capture uninterrupted attention in the first seconds, and then retain their audiences throughout the ad. Biden’s Capture score was 5.8 seconds, meaning that was the average point in which audiences first became distracted while watching the ads. Conversely, Trump’s average first distraction occurred at 4.5 seconds.

Biden’s ads held on to attentive viewers better than Trump. The Biden ads’ Retain score was 39%, which was the percent of original viewers still attentive at second 15 (or until the end of the ad if it was shorter than 15 seconds). The Trump ads’ Retain score was 16%.

Each candidate’s ads scored similarly low for their ability to encode messaging in the minds of their viewers. The Encode score, an index between 1-100, factors in emotional peaks and valleys, and is predictive of viewers’ propensity to find an ad message favourable. Both candidates’ ads achieved an average Encode score of 22, placing them far below the category median of 50.

Mandates for Political Advertisers 

Political advertisers should factor how their creatives supplement or deter investments in paid media to access audience attention in the first place.  In many circumstances, positive content can maximize precious seconds of media time in order to more fully deliver key messages. The more negative ads in this study had among the lowest Quality Scores, resulting in more wasted seconds of paid media.

It is easier to hold attention for the duration of an ad if the ad is shorter. For Trump, coupling more positive messaging with shorter ad durations likely would have resulted in less paid media waste and more attentive audiences that sustained through the duration of the ad. In this study, all ads were approximately 30 seconds.

When political messaging drives specific talking points intended for narrowly defined audiences, emotive storytelling that appeals to general audiences often takes a back seat. This was the case with this set of presidential campaign ads, where there was an absence of emotional peaks and valleys that make viewers like and remember ads as they do in most other consumer advertising categories.



Realeyes measures naturally occurring human response using front-facing cameras as opt-in viewers watch the ads from their PCs, laptops, mobile phones and tablets. This study included an average of 166 participant viewers per ad, for a total of 1,828 views.

The Quality Score used in this study is part of Realeyes’ flagship PreView product, a content intelligence tool for predicting and managing attention in advertising. PreView allows advertisers to reduce media waste by predicting and eliminating low-performing video creative and boosting strong attentive creative. PreView has achieved up to 30% performance gains and 9X return of investment based on an ROI model involving 51 actual consumer goods ads.


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Joe Biden 2020 Video  Ads  
Ranked by  Realeyes Quality Score  , U.S. General Population Sample, Tested October 14, 2020  
Video Name Duration (Sec) Quality Score Performance Capture (Sec0nds to first distraction) Retain (Audience Retention by Second 15) Encode (Audience Potential 1-100)
All Biden Avg 5 Mid 5.8 35% 22
Vote Early 15 5 Mid 6.8 27% 17
Moving Again 30 5 Mid 6.1 23% 34
Barber Shop Workers 6 5 Mid 5.2 48% 21
Millions of new infrastructure jobs 6 5 Mid 5.4 48% 23
Money in your pockets, not big pharma’s 6 4 Mid 5.3 47% 15


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Donald Trump 2020 Video  Ads  
Ranked by  Realeyes Quality Score  , U.S. General Population Sample, Tested October 14, 2020  
Video Name Duration (Sec) QualityScore Performance Capture (Sec0nds to first distraction) Retain (Audience Retention by Second 15) Encode (Audience Potential 1-100)
All Trump Avg 3 Low   5.8 35% 22
Promises made, promises kept 27 5 Mid 6.8 27% 17
The Great American Comeback is underway! 30 4 Mid 6.1 23% 34
Anti-Joe Biden 30 3 Low 5.2 48% 21
Greedy Drug Companies 29 3 Low 5.4 48% 23
Trump Brought Back Manufacturing 22 3 Low 5.3 47% 15
Biden Avoids Answering Questions 31 1 Low 5.3 47% 15



Quality  Score: Realeyes composite score indicating how strong a video asset is at capturing attention. It is determined according to the following three key indicators. 

Capture (Time  to First Distraction): The seconds that viewers are attentive from the start of the video, until first distraction. 

Retain (Audience Retention): The percent of the audience likely to stay attentive to the video for up to 15 seconds of viewing.  

Encode (Attention Potential): The strength of the video to generate high engagement, including attentiveness and emotional peaks relative to the video’s category benchmark. Higher Attention Potential indicates viewers are more likely to report being interested the video.