Attention surplus disorder
Welcome to Unmade, written in Sydney’s Haymarket early on Friday morning. It’s a great spot, but I don’t recommend a hotel close to the tram stop if you’re a light sleeper with jetlag. I hadn’t expected to find myself back at Frankies Pizza stone cold sober and wide awake at 1am on a Wednesday morning. I can report that the house band is as good as ever.
This was the month where the local marketing industry decided it was time to start meeting up again. For the last fortnight, Nine’s Big Ideas Store returned with a live audience. Tuesday saw the IAB’s annual Video Summit return. This weekend, B&T will finally get to run its much postponed Cannes in Cairns event. Next week, Mumbrella’s CommsCon conference and awards for the PR industry is back. And, on a more modest level, the week after that, Unmade will be running our first event.
Yesterday afternoon I moderated Nine’s Great Debate (no, no that Great Debate) on the role of media plans versus creative ideas (No spoilers on who won - but you can see the replay here.)
Things have changed since I was last on a Sydney stage two-and-a-bit years ago. I was shocked to discover that my suits had shrunk in the wardrobe. And nudging the font up by a point size or two is no longer a solution when it comes to reading my script. I now need the reading glasses.
One of the things that has struck me now I’ve been to a few industry events again is that we absorb so much more by being in the room than we do watching a live video stream.
One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about that is because the question of the attention economy has moved back up the agenda again. Humans give differing levels of attention depending on their circumstance.
It was a topic covered off in a Big Ideas Store session on Monday morning. Recently, thanks in large part to the efforts of Karen Nelson-Field’s business venture Amplified Intelligence, the debate has restarted on the question of whether attention could or should be a media buying metric.
Nelson-Field wasn’t at the event, but she was a presence anyway. Her work is getting traction. She’s joined a small group of marketing influencers (who would hate the label) who are ghosts at every marketing feast: Mark Ritson, Les Binet, Peter Field, Byron Sharp, Cindy Gallop and maybe Gary Vaynerchuck. Imagine that dinner party.
It’s not a new debate. The first time I can recall hearing the term neuro-planning was more than 15 years ago when chatting to a media agency strategist who was working on a project to conduct MRI scans of people while they consume various media. I forget how they simulated a large format outdoor poster while somebody was on their back in a horizontal tube, but his aim was to assign differing values to each medium according to the response. It never really came to anything of course.
It was about the same point that I first heard the phrase “multi platform audience measurement”, which still comes up and still feels ever closer only in the same way that Tasmania is always closer to getting an AFL team and Qantas is always closer to direct flights from Sydney to London.
What I struggle with on the question of the attention metric is that there’s something in it. It’s not all marketing bullshit. Intuitively, some media will gain better audience attention than others. Of course it makes sense that media should be planned accordingly. Last month at the Future of Brands conference in London we were solemnly told that strategy for TikTok messaging must include a brand message in the first 1.6 seconds or the viewer would be lost.
Yet the selling point of being an attention-keeping medium does not a media metric make. So I struggle to figure out the place of the science.
Much of the focus so far has been on screen media, because that’s the (relatively) easy part to measure. Whether mobile device, television or cinema, cameras can track whether somebody is actually looking.
This week, cinema advertising firm Val Morgan was promoting the Amplified Intelligence findings which it had funded - “80 per cent active attention, zero waste” -in a podcast on industry website Mi3. As is often the case with Mi3 podcasts, it wasn’t clear whether it was a sponsored content but certainly it played well for Val Morgan.
Zero waste is stretching it of course. Just because a consumer happens to be in the cinema and looking at the screen doesn’t mean they are part of the target audience on a media plan.
You’d also think that it would be bleeding obvious that cinema is an environment with high attention to the ads. But zero wastage? While the lights are still up and the ads are playing I must confess I’ve chatted to the person I’m with or looked at my phone.
Talking only becomes a war crime when the movie itself starts. But it depends how the study was conducted. If the lights were put down for the ads too for the purposes of the study then of course it would deliver a different result.
Which isn’t to say that Val Morgan wasted their money. Sometimes a bit of science helps back up the bleeding obvious when it comes to the sales pitch.
Ten years ago, APN Outdoor funded a study in which consumers‘ brain activity was scanned while they looked at footage of static ads versus ads on the side of trams to ‘prove’ that consumers are more likely to notice moving ads.
They got great coverage in the trade press, which was helped by them flying us all to Melbourne for a lovely night out as part of the event, and giving us the chance to wear those ECG caps and watch our brain activity on a screen.
Was it pseudo science? Probably? Did it help the sales story? Absolutely.
Nine spruiked Amplified Intelligence research in a similar way last month when it paid Amplified Intelligence to do the same work. Seven has also got Amplified Intelligence on the payroll. It’s a lucrative time to be in marketing science.
And that’s the benefit of the attention research. It stands to reason that where a consumer is highly engaged with the medium they’re more likely to pay attention to advertising messages. A great example is podcasts. Out walking or driving with a podcast playing it’s a fair bet that the listener is listening, perhaps more than is typical for radio. Eye tracking won’t measure that though.
So far the recent attention studies have focused on the easier-to-measure media of screen usage. Which may be good sales technique, but isn’t particularly scientific.
The question of whether attention can be turned into a metric isn’t that hard to answer once you think about it. The answer is no. It’s a great sales story though.
Time for me to let you get on with your day. I’m off to play the security check-in lottery at Sydney Airport ahead of a trip back to Tasmania. After living with the brakes and bells of the Sydney trams, I’ll sleep better with the sound of the ocean tonight.
Don’t forget: If you haven’t yet bought a ticket for our first event, it takes place in Sydney in a week and a half on Tuesday May 24. The topic is Marketing in a Cost of Living Crisis. Tickets are $69, or just $10 for Unmade’s paying subscribers.
It’s a great panel. You can find out all the details here.
Have a great day.