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What is attention economy?

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What is attention economy?


Attention is selective, finite, and voluntary. The term selective attention points out that even if something is visible, it is not guaranteed that it will be noticed. Consequently, it is crucial to measure what people actually focus on, rather than assuming they had the opportunity to see it. 

Advertisers can benefit from recognizing that attention is a finite resource that must be earned, not taken for granted. Advertisements must compete for this scarce resource and must be deemed valuable. Moreover, the intentional model of attention helps us comprehend how and why individuals choose to pay attention to certain things while ignoring others. It is essential to acknowledge that consumers have control over their attention. Therefore, factors such as the context, timing, mood, and the relevance or usefulness of the message play a significant role in effectively reaching them. Understanding the reality of attention will assist marketers in making better short-term media buying decisions and becoming more proficient marketers in the long run.


1. How does attention differs across media?


There exists a significant distinction between what individuals have the potential to see and what they actually choose to focus on. Furthermore, these differences vary greatly across various forms of media.


Viewability and viewing


Firstly, it is important to consistently apply the MRC viewability standard across all media platforms being assessed. It is crucial to recognize that not all ads are actually viewable, as there may be instances where nobody is present in the room while the ad is playing. Furthermore, just because an ad is technically viewable does not guarantee that it will capture attention, as individuals in the room may not be actively engaged with the ad. For example, in figure 1, we see that there is a significant difference between the ads that meet the MRC viewability standards versus the ones that are actually viewed. Conversely, many ads, especially those that tend to be in-feed and mobile can be noticed without being considered viewable. Therefore, even if ads meet the MRC viewability standards, there is no assurance that they will actually be viewed.


Source: Guide to Attention in Digital Marketing. (n.d.). IAB. https://iabeurope.eu/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/IAB-Europe-Guide-to-Attention-in-Digital-Marketing-1-1.pdf 


Eyes-on-dwell time 


When ads are visible on the screen, there is a high probability that they will be viewed.  Therefore, this metric refers to the duration of active engagement people have with the ad. It changes depending on the channel used; in the case of social media ads, the eyes on dwell may be lower due to rapid scrolling pace.  


Attention curve


To gain a comprehensive understanding of attention patterns, it is essential to consider the distribution of attention as well.  There are significant variations in attention patterns across media platforms, raising the importance of visualization of the distribution of attention.. In the case that we want to compare attention levels between different media, we can employ the metric called “attention seconds per thousand impressions’ ‘ (aPM). This metric combines the viewing percentage with the mean average eyes-on dwell time and multiplies it by a thousand. It allows for a fair comparison across different media platforms. 


2. Different attention strategies 


Achieving your communication objectives requires purchasing the appropriate amount of attention.


Every form of attention holds value, and it’s worth depends on the goals you aim to accomplish. If your advertisement relies on significant eyes-on dwell time to be effective, it is advisable not to allocate your media budget towards inventory that consistently fails to deliver the required attention. However, if your attention strategy changes, the cost profile of the media you utilize will also change.


Let’s consider two different advertisers as an example. Advertiser 1 is a new brand introducing a complex new product to the market. Their offer is compelling, but understanding the details is crucial for appreciating its value. In this case, they can employ the attention funnel approach to evaluate the varying costs associated with generating five-second increments of attention time. This analysis may reveal that television is a cost-effective method for delivering their attention strategy.


In contrast, Advertiser 2 is an established brand with distinctive brand assets that can be quickly recognized. Their objective is to trigger and reinforce existing memory structures associated with the brand to enhance mental availability. For this purpose, social media proves to be a more cost-effective option.


However, certain media platforms offer the opportunity to implement both strategies simultaneously. Facebook, for example, provides advertisers with the option to purchase ads based on “watch” (payment when the ad is viewed for a sufficient duration), and “reach” (payment for mere exposure).


Furthermore, there is a phenomenon of diminishing returns: the value of adding a second or third second of eyes-on dwell time can be higher than adding the 102nd or 103rd second. Therefore, the better understanding you have of your communication objectives and the level of attention required to achieve them, the more likely you will be able to develop an optimal attention strategy.


3. Tips on boosting attention to ad


While there are no strict rules, it is crucial to consider the reality of attention – its selective nature, limited availability, and voluntary engagement – when briefing and developing creative content.


Selective: Your advertisements must compete for attention not only against other ads but also against numerous other things that people could choose to focus on. Creating visually striking ads that stand out from the surrounding content is essential.


Finite: People’s attention is finite, and most ads in various media platforms only receive a few seconds of attention. Tailor your message to fit within this limited time frame. Shorter, simpler, and focused messages tend to perform better than complex and cluttered ads. In general, advertisers can learn more from the out-of-home (OOH) industry than from the customer relationship management (CRM) industry. Make your brand stand out.


Voluntary: People are not obligated to view your ads. Investing time and resources into developing ads that are genuinely worth watching is not being overly particular or precious; it is a sound business decision.


Do you have any questions about the attention economy? 


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