The attention economy

SUMMARY: We live in an age of “infosmog.” From the moment we wake up to the last time we check our phones or turn off the TV before bed, thousands of ads, social media posts and news stories, both fake and real, compete for our attention.  This is the attention economy – a fiercely competitive market in which brands attempt to outshout their rivals in a bid to get us to notice their messages. The result? A chaotic jumble of data that most consumers just can’t cope with, and the increasing popularity of ad blockers designed to silence this cacophony. 

 Dave Trott, a legendary ad-world guru and the author of Predatory Thinking, estimates that just 4 percent of the average ad is remembered positively. Another 7 percent is remembered negatively, and a whopping 89 percent is forgotten entirely. 

Brands haven’t escaped the growth of distrust in established institutions. For example, in 2017, when the French media company, Havas Group, surveyed 300,000 consumers in 20 countries, it found that a majority believed that some 60 percent of the content produced by companies was poor or irrelevant. 

Advertisers themselves don’t fare much better when it comes to trust. According to the Ipsos MORI Veracity Index, nurses and doctors are the most trusted professions. At the other end of the scale? Representatives of the advertising industry. 

A 2014 report by data analytics firm Nielsen found that 83 percent of all consumers in 60 different countries believe their friends and families over advertising. Management consultancy firm McKinsey, meanwhile, estimates that a full 50 percent of consumption is driven by word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted peers. 

Today, consumers regard ads as a bothersome distraction at best and a hostile act of information warfare at worst. No wonder, then, that the marketing sector is delivering low single-digit growth, despite investing around $800 billion per year!

So here’s the all-important question for brands: How are they supposed to reach their target audiences? Well, more and more companies are abandoning the old-fashioned approach of exaggerating the potential benefits of various products. That worked well back when consumers trusted brands and the institutions around them. These days, though, people can’t be taken for granted – brands have to work at generating meaningful connections with consumers and users.

That’s a massive problem for brands, and many industry experts claim that “skip ad” buttons have become a metaphor for our relationship with advertising. Take it from Max Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at the world-leading, multinational corporation Procter & Gamble. He points out that people spend just 1.7 seconds per day on average watching ads online and that only 20 percent of all ads are viewed for more than two seconds. 

We live in a post-truth world. The institutions that were once trusted sources of truths are now regarded with deep skepticism by citizens and consumers alike. That’s changing the face of advertising. Today, it’s not enough to simply outshout the competition and make exaggerated claims about how great a product is – brands have to establish meaningful connections. Whether it’s using real people in marketing campaigns, creating immersive experiences or leveraging culture, this increasingly means emphasizing authenticity.

The attention economy