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Dominic Mills 

Attention’s tipping point: far away & yet near 

Attention’s tipping point: far away & yet near 

Dominic Mills  looks at what it would take to put attention back at the heart of media planning and buying strategies 

Rather like early-stage environmentalists faced by a wall of public indifference, advertising’s attention evangelists have struggled to get the mass attention (er, sorry) from the industry that they deserve.

Let’s put aside for the moment the absurdity of even debating the value of attention. It’s such a basic building block of advertising — if no-one pays attention to your ad then it won’t work  — that it’s hard to see how the industry could ever have lost sight of its value.

It’s a bit like auto industry designers discovering that after a few years obsessing about three-wheeled cars, they realised that maybe the previous generation knew what it was doing.

As one leading figure encapsulates it: “It’s not just the impressions people see, it’s the impression the ad makes.” How did we forget that?

Last week, I chaired a session at Magnetic’s Spark conference on this subject with Mike Follett of Lumen, Mike Florence of PHD and Anna Sampson of Magnetic. You can see the session here.

Here’s the thing that has puzzled me. Why, despite a) its bleedin’ obviousness b) the support of entities like Magnetic and other premium publishers, who clearly operate in a high-attention environment and therefore have much to gain and, c) the heft of the likes of Colin Gottlieb (LadBible), Mark Barber (Radio Centre) and Nielsen, what does it take to reach the tipping point and, more importantly, when?

One theory held by Florence (but disputed gently by Brian Jacobs) is that much is down to standard contractual arrangements between clients and media agencies that bias towards price and input and away from outcomes.

I have sympathy with this.

While procurement’s understanding of adland has increased substantially and the approach among the enlightened is far from the one-dimensional it is often characterised as, it’s still a big stretch to see them grasping the pricing implications of attention-led planning and buying strategies.

This requires them to move away from standard CPM calculations and metrics — enforced by auditors — to something different.

But, as Florence points out, contracts tend to change when clients pitch, and if there is a splurge of media pitching this year and next, then it is possible contracts may evolve to take account of attention.

Follett takes a slightly different tack, which is that change will come when the intermediaries — defined as ad tech, auditors and intermediaries like pitch consultants — buy-in to attention.

None of which you can argue with.

Me, I take the view that it is the clients that will lead the way and bring the other parts of the industry in line with them. Here, like both Follett and Florence, I am optimistic.

That’s because there is a groundswell of blue-chip clients adopting attention-led planning and buying.

You can read about Mars and AB Inbev here in this Attention Council white paper who, pleasingly, are happy to go public about what they are doing. And they’re not alone: Tesco, Adidas, Chanel and others are following suit also.

We just need more to join in and, vitally, talk about it.

That, in turn, will lead not just to others joining in, but pressure being brought to bear on the entire supply eco-system from auditors to pitch consultants.

Mind you, I think there is one other change that needs to happen — something the industry as a whole appears to buy into but about which I don’t detect much change.

This is the removal of clutter from publishers’ pages. The whole principle of a high-attention environment is compromised by the industry’s tendency for ad stuffing.

Will we get there and when?

I asked Follett and Florence (sounds like a jolly firm of solicitors) and both take the positive line: yes, and in a couple of years which, in adland time, is both far away and near.

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