Pay Attention to the Attention Council

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: Pay Attention to the Attention Council

If you have been paying attention, you're aware of a group called The Attention Council. One hundred of its members, including agency, brand, and publisher representatives, met last week in London. Some of the more interesting aspects of this group are the variety and quality of its founders, and the variation in the work they're doing. Not so long ago, measuring attention was a rather niche, not to say lonely, activity. That is not so today.

The key players are Lumen, the eye-tracking business based in London; TVision, based in New York and specializing in measuring in-TV-room presence; Avocet, a London-based DSP focused on exploring time spent with digital ads; Adelaide (rather confusingly in New York), which combines factors to arrive at what it terms "attention units"; and Amplified Intelligence founder and CEO Karen Nelson-Field (a professor of media innovation at University of Adelaide in Australia), whose technologically advanced approach measures numerous factors contributing to attention across multiple screens in multiple markets. So, that's the UK, U.S., and 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 attracted Diageo, Mars, and Microsoft as members and seems confident that other advertisers will join the group. This is another good example of advertisers' involvement in research into media audience understanding.

Among agencies, Dentsu Aegis has undertaken a major project called The Attention Economy, which seems to be using Amplified Intelligence, although one wouldn't immediately know of its involvement from the literature.

It may be that I'm being over cynical but, although 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 hasn't been noticed, it may as well not have been there (although the average buyer doesn't seem to have gotten that particular memo).

The whole topic used to be a matter of discussion and debate, as well as some fun conference papers. I once saw the 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 most important and that any filters or weightings reducing those numbers were to be avoided at all costs. How little things change.

Proxy measures existed: first in break (something that TVision says 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.

As with many planning metrics, attention became a line in a deal. "We can throw in so-many first right-hand 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.

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 two- or three-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. This is why the work of Professor Nelson-Field and her Attention Council colleagues is important.

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

Don't stop now! Read more on ad industry issues and trends from Brian Jacobs in The Cog Blog.

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