Your Attention Is a Valued Asset
Should advertisers have to pay you for your attention to their ads?
A recent survey found that 40 percent of respondents aged between 30 and 44 said they generally paid attention to commercials, compared to 50 percent who said they did not.
The proliferation of media across the Global Village, had made it difficult to capture the attention of potential contacts and work. Even back in the Transition period between the demise of the Industrial Park and the rise of the Global Village android was sending out 11 billion notifications per day, and on average, GV Residents were checking their phones 150 times per day for short bursts of 30 seconds.
In the Industrial Park, this would indicate successful marketing of goods and services. But in the Global Village, it only indicated that attention was becoming a valued commodity. In the online environment, viewability is widely acknowledged as a significant challenge, and a viewable advert doesn’t necessarily mean the viewer has paid attention to the advert. The rise of adblocking software also disrupted the flow of opportunities across the Global Village.
More than 51 percent of Residents felt bombarded by unsolicited advertising. Advertising Association think tank, Credos, showed that public favorability towards advertising hit a record low of 25 percent in December 2018. According to Credos, this was the latest measure in a “long-term decline” in attention paid to on-line advertising.
There is an inverse relationship between the availability of information and the attention. Increased information results in a scarcity of attention. This meant that attention had become a precious commodity in the Global Village..
The media industry is focused on reach and interruptive attention
The digitalization of content and distribution has made attention cheaper and easier to capture, and the abundance of data has enabled optimization. This has resulted in a reach led approach to attention, focused on interruption strategies, grabbing attention and maximizing eyeballs.
The reality is however, that attention is a finite resource. Put simply, there are only so many hours in the day. Attention strategies that are based on the premise of interruption, capitalizing on low quality attention and maximizing reach could prove problematic for the long-term health of advertising. Attempting to squeeze more and more attention out of increasingly distracted Residents risks undermining our overall capacity for attention .
Communication strategists such as Oliver Feldwick and Faris Yakob have questioned the sustainability of an attention-grabbing approach. So an ad hoc team of interested Residents sought a more sustainable approach.
Achieving a sustainable approach to attention
The starting point is an appreciation that not all attention is equal, and that we need to place greater emphasis on quality attention. Quality attention is not just clicks, it can’t be measured in eyeballs alone, it’s about time well spent, it’s about focused and immersive attention. Yacob gave us a spectrum of attention, to acknowledge for example that the requisite two seconds online hoping to attract a click is very different to watching a 30-second commercial in a darkened movie theater.
So instead of grabbing attention, Residents thought about cultivating attention over the long term; That would be a more sustainable approach. This means prioritizing an approach that values meaningful media experiences, that wasn’t interruptive.
How to measure attention
The challenge, as always, comes back to measurement. While it’s relatively straightforward to make an intellectual argument for quality attention, Residents wanted to be able to quantify ‘quality attention’. The difficulty here was that with a mix of complex and subtly different metrics, it is incredibly hard to compare attention across different platforms.
Time spent is one of the standard ways to measure attention, unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. A report from Ipsos MORI and Lumen acknowledges that, even in the online environment where dwell time is a standard metric, this doesn’t provide the full picture. Analysis of creative performance of digital communication found that a well created digital advert can deliver recognition at a glance and aid brand impact. When a weaker ad might not perform even with a longer dwell time. This led to the need to consider intensity of attention; this refers to a more qualitative understanding of attention.
There are different types of attention
With this in mind, Bournemouth University developed a framework for understanding attention, which acknowledges there are different types. Informed by a variety of theories, they asserted that attention sits on a spectrum from top down, which is conscious and immersive, to bottom up, which is unconscious and fast.
There is also a need to consider how people process information. Information can be processed cognitively, i.e. analytically based on supporting arguments, often text based or lists of attributes or features. Or they can be processed emotionally based on value expressive goals linked to self identity. Typically these are more reliant on imagery and seek to engage moods, desires and feelings.
It can be argued that different objectives and sectors are better suited to different types of attention. A useful way to think about this is the idea that attention has different modes: studying, soaking up, skimming and scanning. You might select one of these on the basis of the creative you are working with, the message that you are trying to communicate, or the behavior you are trying to change. Advertisers can use any or all of these modes depending on their objectives. For example, a Smart Energy campaign used all four modes deploying cinema and advertorials in magazines for top-down immersive attention and display advertising and video online to achieve bottom up interruptive attention.
Media channels don’t naturally sit in one mode or another; many straddle a number of modes depending on how the channel is deployed and the creative treatment. A magazine, for example, can be studied, soaked up or skimmed depending on the title, whether the consumer is reading in print on, social or online, and the creative approach taken with the commercial message. For example, a display advert, a partnership strategy, a home page take-over or an online influencer campaign.
From this framework, the important take-out is to work with the type of attention that brand objectives, creative and media channels are best suited to. This is the best way to achieve a higher quality of attention.
Quality attention drives actions
Measuring attention is undeniably a challenge. A single metric is unlikely to fully account for the different types of attention and all the variety of factors that influence it. In our ‘Attention Please’ white paper, Bournemouth University highlighted five contextual factors that need to be considered when measuring attention.
Advertising goals: Purpose of the advertisement (desired outcome, remind, inform, change attitude, build brand etc).
Personal goals: Utilitarian or value expressive (and specific nature of those goals).
Media moment: how the media is being experienced (escapism, diversion, killing time).
Media brand/channel relationship: Consumers’ relationship with particular media brands (pleasure, purpose, trust, relevance, credibility, personal connection, emotion, control, personal choice, loyalty).
Advertising relationship: Consumers’ relationship with an advertisement (part of experience, relevance, distracting, annoying etc).
So is all this complexity worth our attention because ultimately the measure of success in advertising comes back to proving effective outcomes. For attention to be taken seriously as a topic, there needs to be a link between attention and important KPIs, such as purchase and consideration.
Neuroscience provides some compelling insight into this question. In this field, attention is referred to as memory encoding, and memory encoding is seen to be a crucial metric. The science shows that if something isn’t stored into memory, no matter how much we enjoy it at the time, it can’t possibly affect our future behavior — if it’s not stored away into memory, it’s simply not there in our heads.
The significance of memory goes even deeper than this, because our brains are very selective about what is stored away, and we tend to encode things for which the brain has already identified a use. Therefore, if something is encoded into memory, this is both an enabler and predictor of likely future behavior.
In neuroscience, we find that attention really matters because the ultimate goal of any campaign is always to create some kind of behavior change.