Attention, Please: Attention To Advertising Hot Topic Today

How to get consumers to pay attention to advertising has been an important issue for marketers for decades. For good reason: attention has been shown to be an antecedent to ad success.

The ever-expanding increase in media vehicles and platforms has arguably made this issue more important than ever. Not only is there increased consumer multitasking, simultaneous use of more than one medium has become quite common. Thus it's fortuitous that new research, is generating more insight on this important topic.

The Advertising Research Foundation’s  review of the new research on video advertising suggests two major conclusions:

  • “Attention” is an ambiguous term and is measured in different ways.  The term can refer to a range of mental states, from “scanning” of content that may leave little memory trace, to powerful emotional engagement with the brand and/or sales message. The important takeaway is that attention can be an indicator of ad success, but that not all kinds of attention are likely antecedents or prerequisites to ad success. Therefore, clarity about what is meant by “attention,” as well as how it is measured, is crucial.   
  • While it is widely assumed that more attention equals more impact, the new research suggests that a high level of attention to an ad may not always be an indicator of a positive effect.  



Many of the recent studies on attention to advertising use biometric and neuroscience-based methods to provide a direct measurement of “attention” in contrast to indirect, self-reported measures.

While “traditional” methods have proven their value over decades of advertising research, the new research has some important advantages: biometric and neuroscience-based research can provide precise measurement of where the consumer looked, for how long, and if visual (or audio) attention resulted in an emotional reaction. 

For example, eye-tracking combined with emotional measurement allows marketers to see exactly which ad components consumers respond to positively and assess whether it is content that sells and builds the brand, or content that actually distracts from key messages. 

In short, the new methods make it easier to identify the kinds of “attention” that are indeed precursors of ad impact.

As the application of neuroscience methods to these issues is relatively new, this field is evolving. While it is established that there are different kinds of attention that may or may not predict ad success, there are still a number of open questions that require more research, such as:

  • What are the optimal attention levels for advertising on different platforms, such as TV and mobile? Are age differences important?
  • We need to better understand the role of the cognitive processes triggered by attention. When do they enhance and when do they interfere with positive reactions to advertising?

The research in this field in ongoing and several new studies are going to be presented at the ARF’s AUDIENCExSCIENCE conference, set for April 15-16 in Jersey City.

The ARF encourages this research because it can help marketers (and their agencies) develop advertising that attracts the kind of attention that is indeed an antecedent to advertising effectiveness.

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