The Psychic's Brain: Ephron On Attentiveness

Of the many adjectives and descriptors used to describe Erwin Ephron -- guru, genius, simplifier, prognosticator -- I don't recall "psychic" being one of them, so I'm invoking it in this column, because after thumbing through the Advertising Research Foundation's excellently executed use of ChatGPT to curate and reinterpret some of his remarkable newsletter insights, I was struck by one he wrote that seems to have set the stage for the rapidly emerging debate surrounding so-called "attention metrics."

Needless to say, they weren't labeled as "metrics" when Ephron wrote his "Lizard Brain Learning: Attentiveness Seems to Have Grown Another Head" dispatch in July 2007, but after re-reading it, I think he identified what should be the core of the debate: Not whether media researchers could use new and emerging technologies to measure physiological markers of human attention, but how to interpret and what to do with them.



Here's how ChatGPT -- with an able assist from the human editors contributing to the ARF project -- summarized it:

"This newsletter humorously explores the concept of the brain's attentiveness, particularly in relation to advertising. The newsletter jests at the idea of one's brain being entertaining company, making references to constellations and witty remarks. It cites a point-of-view presented in the Media Research Club of Chicago Review that discusses how to address inattentive TV viewers in media planning. The piece highlights the notion that beyond attentive attention, there exists inattentive attention. The central argument revolves around the "Lizard Brain," a proposed instinctive cognitive system that's always alert, noting and categorizing stimuli without our conscious realization. The newsletter questions the relevance of this concept to media planning, especially considering that most disengagement with TV isn't due to inattentiveness but rather viewers no longer watching.

And here's how ChatGPT reinterpreted it for our contemporary context:

"In the current media landscape, where multitasking and fragmented attention are the norms, the idea of the "Lizard Brain" or subconscious processing is increasingly pertinent. As users switch between devices, platforms, and content, understanding how information is processed, even subconsciously, becomes crucial for advertisers. The reinterpretation underscores the importance of crafting memorable, impactful ads that can resonate even in a distracted environment. While the newsletter humorously critiques the notion of inattentive attention, the modern media landscape demands strategies that cater to both attentive and inattentive viewers. With advancements in neuromarketing and biometric tools, advertisers can gain deeper insights into how content is consumed, paving the way for more effective, subconscious-resonating campaigns. The challenge lies in balancing engaging content with the reality of fragmented viewer attention."

It's ChatGPT's last line that I think captures the spirit of what Ephron would be advising us all today: the challenge of how to apply it.

One of the things Ephron taught me long ago is that there is no perfect form of media research. Even explicit observational studies have their biases. And as good as neuromarketing, biometrics, and computervision are in unlocking some of the mysteries of our "lizard," mammalian, or contemporary human brains may be, we still need to apply our brains to interpret what those outputs actually mean.

There are 151 similar breakdowns -- summaries and reinterpretations -- in this special ARF fundraising initiative. I highly recommend reading all of them if you want to apply more of your own brain.

1 comment about "The Psychic's Brain: Ephron On Attentiveness".
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  1. Jonathan Bouman from Oodle, December 26, 2023 at 10:16 a.m.

    $2,500 for a copy - ouch! Good thing back in the day I printed out his newsketters and read most of them while campaign on the Lower Saranac Lake islands back in the day. His ideas certainly still resonate today. It would have been great to get his take on AI and its affect on advertising's future.

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