If an audience doesn’t pay attention to your ad, there’s no way it can be effective. And competition for people’s attention has never been fiercer, but all is not lost.

From influencer partnerships to the use of emotional storytelling, advertisers have access to countless creative levers to help break through the noise. But the truth is, even the best creative components will only take you so far in this world where consumers are more selective with the allocation of their attention than ever. And according to new research from Ipsos and Nielsen, the attention-worthiness of video ads depends just as much on how the ads are served as what’s in them.

Contrary to popular belief, people can and do still pay attention today

It’s not that grabbing attention has become impossible. Despite the recent proliferation in platforms, channels, and devices, research shows people can and do still pay attention to video. In fact, according to Ipsos, 81% of video-viewing occasions get all or most of people’s attention.1

But people are more selective about where they devote their attention

People have so much media to choose from today that they are less likely to settle for content that doesn’t grab their interest.2 Gone are the days of, “I’m watching this because there’s nothing good on.” Now, there are so many options, you’re more likely to have choice overload.

As one focus group participant in Chicago put it, “There’s so much out there that if something doesn’t really grab me, I just go on to the next thing.” In other words, if you can’t captivate them, they clear out.

Consider a restaurant analogy: Crafting ads with the best ingredients is always recommended, but it’s the service that brings a meal from good to great.

So people still pay attention, but the bar for what deserves their attention continues to rise. As a result, so do the stakes for brands.

Ads get more audience attention when they’re served based on intent signals, not just demographics

What does all of this mean for brands? People will give you their attention if you can show them you know them. According to Ipsos, relevance and personalization are the top ad attributes associated with attention to video ads.3

This makes sense—we’re more likely to notice ads that seem to speak to us directly. And ads can truly resonate when they’re targeted not just with demographics, but also with precise intent signals ranging from search behavior to store visits to app activity.

For example, if you’re a beverage company looking to promote your new sports drink, you could target your ads broadly to consumers 18-49 years old and see scattered engagement among them. But if you target people who like to go to gyms and workout studios or download fitness apps on their phones, you’re much more likely to capture their full attention and convert that attention into action.

Brand metric lifts for intent-based targeting compared to demographic-based targeting alone

For advertisers, the reward for serving ads according to these signals is significant. According to YouTube data, campaigns that use intent-based targeting on mobile devices have 20% higher ad recall lift, and 50% higher brand awareness lift compared to campaigns that only use demographic targeting.4

Making attention-grabbing advertising is about more than the ads themselves. Consider a restaurant analogy: Crafting ads with the best ingredients is always recommended, but it’s the service that brings a meal from good to great.