Advertising models to reset in the new ‘attention economy’

The way people consume information has changed rapidly, creating a healthy debate on what it takes for businesses to win in the new attention economy.
Karen Nelson-Field, founder and executive director of Amplified Intelligence and Professor of Media Innovation at The University of Adelaide in Australia. Image: Shutterstock

Global thought leader Karen Nelson-Field is the guest speaker at a webinar in October this year, introducing her ground-breaking work on attention in advertising.

Speaking ahead of the ‘Cause, Consequence and Course Correction’ webinar to be hosted early in October by Spark Media, Robyn Bishop, head of marketing, says while the South African market is conscious that attention is a big theme and that it is playing a more significant role, this does need to be unpacked further.

“I think the media agencies who have global offices will find that attention will soon become integrated in media planning metrics used in their strategic planning tools. Big agency groups, like Dentsu, OMD and PHD are already closely aligned to moving media forward with the undeniable research results from Amplified Intelligence,” she says.

Bishop adds that as a co-founder of The Attention Council, Nelson-Field is leading the ‘Attention as a currency’ theme, which is a game-changer for media. “Localised Lumen research shows how exceptional our local newspapers are at holding human attention, something that should not be overlooked in our media landscape,” she says. 

How advertising metrics have changed

The dominant theory back in the 1960s was that advertising was capable of persuading a non-buyer to change their behaviour to become a buyer. However, Nelson-Field says that in today’s society, very successful advertising in large part reinforces, rather than changes, behaviour; and this occurs over a long timeframe. “Attention as a metric is relatively new in the audience measurement game and prior to that, advertisers typically looked at engagement levels, such as page impressions.”

These measurements were inward facing and based on the device but now we are moving to outward facing measurements – what the person or consumer is doing rather than what the screen is doing. You might have a page on the screen in front of you, but you could be distracted by something else or even a second screen. So now the advertiser is able to track how long your eyes are actively on the page rather than how long the page is up on your laptop,” she explains.

She adds that consumers are typically highly distracted, usually by other fun things on the page. “On average, between 70 and 80% of an advertisement has no active attention paid at all,” Nelson-Field says.

She points out that share of voice as a foundation of marketing planning and performance has been eroded due to the rise of digital platforms, where data around share of spend/impressions is impossible to calculate and largely meaningless.

“As a result, the media marketplace has become increasingly dysfunctional. No longer can we compare different impressions by market prices paid, or by any device-based fix-all performance metric, because these opaque measures tell us little about actual human attention paid to advertising,” she says.

Moving forward in the new attention economy

In her latest book, The Attention Economy and How Media Works: Simple Truths for Marketers (Springer, January 2020), Nelson-Field addresses the advertising myths businesses need to leave behind, so that they can win in the current ‘attention economy’.

An excerpt below gives a clear outline of her line of thinking:

“In this age of distraction, the old definition of attention ‘taking full possession of the mind’ is best left for The Exorcist. This hypnotic notion is just not reality. But before you call the undertaker for advertising, remember that low attention can be just as valuable.”

She writes that advertisers will need to understand:

a) How to create ads based on the mechanisms known to foster attention;
b) How to buy media that support modal qualities known to foster attention; and
c) How to switch from legacy measurement that only considers high attention, to measures that better reflect the reality of human attention.

“Don’t panic, the attention economy future looks bright, with less guessing on whether attention is being paid, and far more certainty,” Nelson-Field concludes.

You can join the free Cause, Consequence and Course Correction webinar on the reality of human attention processing in advertising on Wednesday, October 6, 2021 at 10am.

Brought to you by Spark Media.

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