Preferential Looking

Attention Marketing


I saw this sticker advertising stickers and it made me chuckle. In some ways it's brilliant tactical media planning, right at the point of need, use, consumption.

But the invasion of non-commercial spaces, borrowing attention from toasters, is fraught with its own problems. You know how sometimes things just feel wrong?

Maybe that's creative / cultural blinking instinct kicking in. Maybe the stickers just need to be less lame.

When I was young, before the Cadbury Gorilla, people used to declaim the use of borrowed interest.

The thinking was that using 20 seconds to tell an unrelated joke, and 10 seconds to sell, was not a great idea.

And whilst this seems sensible, or did until the Gorilla, it didn't really sit well with me, since all interruption marketing is borrowing attention from the content it is interrupting.

Apart from posters, which increasingly I think of differently to other media. [There's a different kind of contract being struck with viewers, whether or not you think they have the right to exist at all.]

Which is why, as we know, things are so different now. We can't really buy attention anymore - people have got too good at not paying us any. We have to earn it.

Previously, the implicit value exchange - free content in exchange for watching ads - enabled the balanced value exchange between brands and people.

This model is best encapsulated by Homer Simpson:

Quiet, the commercial is on… if we don’t watch these, it’s like we’re stealing TV!

But that relationship has begun to breakdown in an on demand world, requiring a more explicit earning of attention.

Which is why I really liked the way Anthony Mayfield [at IAB Engage - I've put a bunch of slides up on Flickr] described the internet as an Attention Market.

It's been a decade since Wired realised that we are in an attention economy. Mass media lowered the cost to the point where significantly more ads can be transmitted to a 'consumer' than any person can process. Therefore, the relatively scarce resource needing allocation becomes attention.

The internet is a live, global attention market, dynamically allocating attention to those things that earn it best in near real-time. The speed of response has a corresponding diminution on the longevity of attention - everything becomes a flash in the pan. [This is just an acceleration of an existing trend - when gramaphone records replaced sheet music the record industry noticed a a distinct truncation in the longevity of hits.]

This of course puts the structure of the industry at odds with the attention market - we need a constant stream of new new things to maintain salience.

Understanding how attention is being allocated across the market is the next big frontier of analytics: Google trends, blog mentions, behavioural targeting - all attempts to track, understand, follow and then predict the allocation of attention.

This data has value - in fact its the driving value behind Google and Facebook - real, behavioural attention market data.

The Attention Trust  wants to wrestle that value back for the individual - imagine if you could actively trade attention, receiving value in return.

Back during gold rush of the web, a company called All Advantage tried to redress the attention issue and balance the value exchange by paying people watch ads. It also compensated members for promoting the site, which made it grow rapidly - one of the first viral marketing success stories.

The company died - I don't think paying people to watch ads is the right way to think about value - we'll see if it works in mobile credit - although it may have grown into a Nielsen if the ad bubble had collapsed so hard.

Thinking about value that way feels analogous to paying someone to be your friend - it's still buying attention, not earning it.

It time for brands to realise we are operating in an attention market and their money ain't no good here.

Welcome to the age of attention marketing.