Short Attention Span Theater: Why A New 156-Page Report Is NOT A Nine-Second Read

The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) this week released the first phase of its “Attention Validation Initiative,” including a nifty report that profiles and analyzes the commonalities -- as well as the differences -- of 26 attention measurement suppliers, including one major media agency, Omnicom Media Group.

The report is worth reading if you want to get a handle on this burgeoning supply chain, and the quantitative analysis provides an interesting overview of methods, ownership, areas of attention focus (creative vs. media vs. brand effect), as well as their underlying business models.



It also organizes the players into two groups worthy of new industry buzz terms: “attention natives,” which were conceived specifically to measure attention (see below), and “attention non-natives.”

“In the ever-evolving realm of media consumption, understanding and quantifying audience attention has become more significant for content creators, advertisers, and media executives,” ARF Chief Research Officer Paul Donato said in a statement released with the report.

While I agree with the ever-evolving part of Donato’s statement, I'd like to see the data showing that quantifying audience attention has become more significant, because it seems to me it has always been the ad industry’s Holy Grail.

The first event I ever covered was a symposium at Columbia University in the early 1980s focused on it. And it was only a dozen years ago that the ARF itself was championing the promise "neuromarketing" research to scientifically measure consumer attention to advertising and media.

In fact, if you read the ARF’s new report, you’ll note that many of the new attention natives are utilizing neuromarketing techniques as part of their methodology.

Makes me wonder about the attention span of the ad industry.

If I had a few more seconds, I'd invoke a John Wanamaker quote.

4 comments about "Short Attention Span Theater: Why A New 156-Page Report Is NOT A Nine-Second Read".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 6, 2023 at 11:02 a.m.

    Strange, Joe. Many of the "neuromarketing" systems that  I assume are included are not determining to what extent the consumer is exposed to the ad under real life conditions---but what happens during an exposure. As far as quantifying audience attention being the "holy grail" maybe, but there has been precious little effort---make that zero effort---- in the past to incorporate any worthwhile measurement of ad attentiveness in the various "audience" studies used by media buyers and sellers to  supply their transaction "currencies". And no attentiveness measures seem to be planned for the "improved" new TV rating services, which will be funded mainly by the sellers---just much larger samples so every show or venue can be reported no matter how small its "audience". Does the report come up with any conclusions---or recommendations----- on this?


  2. John Grono from GAP Research, October 9, 2023 at 4:57 p.m.

    While I fully understand the need for 'attentiveness', it is an extremely difficult metric to enshrine simply because one person's 'attentiveness' is another person's 'boredom'.  At best you could hope for 'average attentiveness'.

    And should 'average attentiveness' become viable, at what level should it be researched and reported.   Would it be the average for, say, automobiles versus washing powder?   Would it have demographics, say, age and gender ... and let's throw in geography.   Oops .. I've left out medium ... broadcast, streaming etc.

    And let's say that we can do that.   But how do you differntiate between the creative used within those vectors?

    And should we ever manage a tsunami of micro-metrics what is the bet that advertisers would seek to get lower CPMAVTMYs (cost per thousand attentive viewers to my ad) because the ad didnn't work or demand make-goods.   The corallary is that the worse the creative the less money the advertiser has to pay which would emasculate TV as we know it.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 9, 2023 at 7:22 p.m.

    John, I agree that attentiveness is not only a threshold metric but also varies from situation to situstion---even if the viewer's eyes are on the screen. Also, you don't have to be looking at the screen throughout a commercial to get its message. And what happens next---in the consumer's mind---- is also of vital concern---does he/she get the message? Is the message understood---and identified with the right brand? Is it believed? etc.  However, what we have now is being represented to advertiser CMOs and brand managers as representing commercials being seen---when that is far from the truth. Which makes our reach and frequency projections almost meaningless---and extremely misleading. 

    As of now, eyes-on-screen attentiveness has developed to a point where it seems to be a feasible measurment and is ready to be deployed---but the sellers---for the wrong reasons---have effectively blocked its universal adoption---- for TV at any rate. What's sad about their attitude is that if branding advertisers ---who now spend something like $100+ billion annualy on "TV" commercial time costs on all platforms---- realized how low their ad exposure levels really were and how infrequently viewers watch their  commercials, they wuld probably increase---their spending----not decrease it----as "TV" is their primary communications medium with consumers. They have no where else to go. Instead, they  are given puffed up "impression" stats which create the false---but comforting---illusion of mass reach and  "excess frequency"--- or "crabgrass"--- when about two -thirds of the time their message wasn't even looked at. If they only knew. "Impressions" are the real "crabgrass".

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, October 10, 2023 at 12:30 a.m.

    Great points Ed.

    You mentioned low ad exposure levels and how infrequently viewers watch commercials.   I agree.   But what is overlooked by many people is that while overall viewing across all sources is increasing, that the quantum of advertising sources rapid growth actually increases the relative (not actual) power of TV advertising that few internet sources can match.

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