The new media currency: is attention the future of investing?

The new media currency: is attention the future of investing?

24 March 2022 |

Media and Advertising Industry

Today’s marketers are seeking greater transparency and confidence in one of their biggest annual investments: media. In the pursuit of transparency, emerging attention-based metrics are challenging traditional planning and trading currencies. This is not unchartered territory; but to explore how attention could be used to evaluate channels, measure effectiveness and inform decision-making, we need to take a balanced view. 

The punchline is: don’t panic. 


Advertising is (mostly) about memory.  

It’s amusing that the majority of people have the wrong idea of how humans pay attention to advertising, as well as the point of advertising itself.  Advertising doesn’t work by changing people’s behaviors, or influencing them to buy. It’s more passive. Advertising instead works by building memory structures. As memories decay, the role of advertising is also to refresh and remind people that your brand exists, while linking the brand to consumption and purchase situations. 

If your brand is not thought of in a buying situation, it will likely never be bought. Hebb’s law of ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ is an easy way to think of how brand links are formed. This is one of the laws of brand growth pioneered by Professors Bryon Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. We celebrate that ADMATIC is called home by their alumni.


So why does attention matter? 

If advertising is not about persuading, then surely it can work without us paying much attention to it at all, right? Well, sort of.

If no attention is paid (ad avoidance) then there is zero chance the brand will be encoded. According to Sharp, it’s better if advertising can generate conscious processing and attention. This provides the best chance for the brand to be linked to consumption or purchase situations.


So is more attention gained a good thing?  

If someone pays attention to your ad, it doesn’t mean they are going to buy your brand. On the flip side, recent data has linked attention to a brand’s mental availability. According to a report by the Advertising Council, high mental availability is linked to profit growth, customer acquisition, retention and market share.  While promising, more research is needed on the relationship between attention, quality, cost and overall effect on brand growth. It’s not as linear as twice the awareness gained is worth twice as much investment. 


But what can I do to leverage attention right now?  

For some basic yet practical ways for marketers to leverage the power of attention, read on. 



Select high impact, attention grabbing formats. Consider screen size, senses, relative ad size, domination, share of voice and dynamic formats. Based on a guide by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, the type of stimuli chosen will impact the level of mental processing and awareness gained. 

Alongside varied formats, aim for reach. The more people you reach, the more likely it is that more people will notice your ad. Pick a selection of different media types and integrate your creative across channels to increase reach, rather than build excessive frequency. Media can increase mental availability with this approach if there is relentlessly consistent application of distinctive brand assets used across creative variations. Buyer beware: don’t select channels just because they promise more attention than others.

Marketers should also be discerning of media channels that claim to deliver more attention from specific, niche target audiences. Segmenting and targeting towards an identified target audience does not necessarily mean the media will be able to reach larger amounts of the segment.



Get noticed and ensure your creative ‘looks like you’. Dr Karen Nelson-Field from Amplified Intelligence says this will ensure any attention paid is gained by you. Most consumers fail to link an ad to a brand. If we go back to the fundamental principles of how advertising works, memory structures cannot generate sales if they are not associated with the brand that is being advertised. There are no attention-grabbing channels that can recover the cost of poorly branded creative that accidentally causes attention gain for your competitors. Don’t rely on attention to do the heavy lifting. 



What’s hot and new, isn’t what is best. 

The challenge for marketers is that current metrics (CPM, impressions and viewability etc.) show the opportunity to see (OTS), a criteria that differs across channels. OTS metrics do not indicate if the OTS has converted into an exposure, and what impact that exposure has had. Attention advocates claim base viewability standards are not enough to build memories. Marketers should be curious about incorporating attention metrics to compliment existing ones, but attention alone can not yet be used to gauge advertising success. 

Attention metrics can instead provide an additional layer of parameters that can be used to evaluate media channels, and help choose between options that are similar in nature (such as two video ad types, two display ad types). So while we remain skeptical and neutral about any self-serving claims by adtech companies, or fancy metrics framed as the panacea for media investment effectiveness, it’s exciting to be part of an industry that is just trying to do better. 

And to that, I am paying attention. 


Get in touch with your ADMATICian to discuss how you can take your media planning to the next level.