Pay Attention!

If you have been (paying attention that is..), you’ll be aware of a group called The Attention Council which met last week in London. Some of the more interesting things about this group is the variety and quality of its founders, the variation in the work they’re doing, and where they’re based. Not so long ago, measuring attention was a rather niche, not to say lonely activity. Not so today.

The key players are Lumen, the eye-tracking business based in London; TVision, based in New York and specialising in measuring in-TV-room presence; Avocet, a London DSP focused on exploring time spent with digital ads; Adelaide (rather confusingly in NY), who combine factors to arrive at what they term ‘attention units’ and Amplified Intelligence’s Karen Nelson-Field (who really is from Adelaide), whose technologically advanced approach measures a number of factors contributing to attention across multiple screens in multiple markets. So that’s UK, US, Australia all represented.

The Council’s objectives state:

“To promote the use of attention metrics to create incentives that align all stakeholders in the media and advertising ecosystem.”

Recently the Council has attracted Diageo, Mars and Microsoft as members, and seems confident that other advertisers will join the group.

Another good example of the involvement of advertisers in research into media audience understanding.

Amongst agencies, Dentsu Aegis has undertaken a major project, The Attention Economy which seems to be using Amplified Intelligence, although you wouldn’t immediately know of their involvement from the literature.

It may be that I’m being over cynical but although the Dentsu Aegis work is certainly interesting and based on robust measures the real test will be when a planner uses the attention metrics in the plan, only for the buyer to ignore the findings on the basis that a better deal can be struck elsewhere.

Attention to advertising has always been an issue. After all, if you don’t notice something it really doesn’t matter how many gross impressions are delivered. If it’s not been noticed it may as well not have been there (although the average buyer doesn’t seem to have got that particular memo).

The whole topic used to be a matter of discussion and debate (and some fun conference papers: I once saw a well-known media director of a full-service agency light a hidden firecracker on stage to make a point about the need for attention).

But discussion and debate aren’t the same as widespread use. Currency measures have never really concerned themselves with attention, with the media vendors believing that the biggest gross numbers were what was important and that any filters or weightings that reduced those numbers were to be avoided at all costs. How little things change.

Proxy measures existed. First in break (something that TVision say is indeed desirable); right-hand page; front half of the book and so on. These (and others) did come with a premium; but not any research justification (if I remember right even the old reading and noting scores had context above position in the attention-grabbing hierarchy).

As with many planning metrics, attention became a line in a deal. ‘We can throw in so-many first RH pages in return for a larger share of the print budget’. That sort of thing.

Everyone accepted that premium slots/positions were a good thing, but no-one knew how good and therefore what additional value, or benefit was on offer.

But all that was then, when choice was limited, quality was a matter for trade press articles and conference speeches, and bottom line CPM was really all that the advertisers and their auditors cared about.

Today we have massive media choice, and so the penny is dropping that understanding and quantifying the benefits of screen A over screen B, or of slot C over slot D is important. It’s clearly absurd to think that an impression is an impression is an impression, especially if we are somehow seeking to compare a 30-second TV ad, or a 60-second cinema commercial with a 2 or 3 second online video.

We need to know far more than we do now about these elements if we are to offer rounded advice to our advertisers.

Which is why the work of Professor Nelson-Field and her Attention Council colleagues is important.

I have a sense that this time one or other measure of attention will stick, especially if the impetus comes from advertisers and their much-welcomed involvement in the media process.


1 Comment
  1. Yes, but… if “attention” only gets considered after you’ve given credence to the whole idea of digital targeting, meaning you’re only really talking to heavy users of the category in the first place, then it’s pointless. Differential “Attention” values matter most for broadcast, relatively UNtargeted advertising.
    As the great Jeremy Bullmore said way back in 1994 “It reaches people who will never fly BA and people who will never buy a BMW– but whose knowledge and views and opinions are still of immeasurable value, not least to that minority that does fly and does buy. In other words– much of the “waste” that we may soon be able to eliminate is almost certainly not waste at all. We may have chosen mass media in the absence of any alternative and mourned its lack of precision, but in fact, we may have been buying more than we bargained for. So when I say “Advertising costs half as much as you think it does; but do you know which half?”..what I really mean is: “Advertising gives you half as much again as you pay for– and you’re still never going to know which half”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *