What happens when the attention hype runs out?
How does attention measurement in media avoid the same fate as Google Glass or MySpace?
In marketing terms, attention has been one of the words of the year. The idea that attention to advertising correlates to awareness, recall and other brand outcomes has drawn many influential supporters, and all the signs appear to point to 2023 as a monster year — one in which more brands move past expressions of interest and into a fertile working relationship with attention itself.
We hope this is the case, but there’s another scenario, too — one in which all the hype around attention and attention measurement builds up, up, up and then… fizzles out.
Could this happen when there’s so much hype behind attention? Of course it could. Many technologies have appeared set to change the world and then simply disappeared right under our noses — think of Google Glass or MySpace: all sure things or objects of fascination in their time; all gone within a few short years.
Mind the trough
What do we call this kind of sudden drop in hype? I personally like the name research firm Gartner give it in their famous Hype Cycle methodology — the infamous ‘trough of disillusionment’.
What causes it? Gartner describes it as: “Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.”
So how does attention avoid this fate? Clearly, it needs to satisfy early adopters — the brands and media agencies that are fascinated by the promise of a new measure that can help them understand which ads are actually looked at, for how long, and with what impact on key brand metrics. Those early adopters’ experiments and implementations therefore need to deliver, or, yes, the producers of the technology may well shake out and fail.
If all those experiments are based on solutions which feature robust eye-tracking technology in their methodologies; if they use cutting-edge machine learning and privacy-compliant, opt-in panels; and if they apply that data to generate insights that are truly actionable in real time — then we don’t have any doubt that attention will pass the hype test.
The two challenges: finding true attention data and moving into activation
The concerns, however, are twofold. The first is that not all attention is equal, and not every attention product is capable of delivering the same deal-clinching results as the most rigorous methods.
Attention is the hot new thing, so all those selling media measurement solutions need a product that claims to measure it. But the science of attention is not easily concocted — as we’ve said before, not all sparkling wine is champagne — and while buyers are generally savvy, it seems inevitable that some attention-curious brands will sample a provider’s own-brand fizz and wonder what all the fuss was about.
The second ‘gotcha’ is around activating on attention. Generalised attention data which tells us to spend more on certain channels was a logical first step, but once those important broad-brush changes are implemented, there’s not a lot of variety or additional value for the brand.
Advertisers should rightly be pushing to move forward past planning and into applying attention data onto live campaigns — be that campaign measurement or real time optimisation. If we get stuck at just using attention for planning data for too long, there’s a risk the promise of attention falls short of expectations.And if the above happens, then pretty soon, attention finds itself in the trough of disillusionment, struggling for the momentum to tackle the next stage — the one Gartner calls the ‘slope of enlightenment’.
The path to enlightenment
If marketers work from a fairly straightforward checklist, however, we feel the trough shouldn’t be hard to overcome quickly. The recipe to do this is:
Look for eye gaze-based data
Above all, attention measurement needs to include eye-tracking data. Beware of insights based entirely on proxy attention metrics, such as viewability and time in view — they aren’t predictive of brand outcomes like true attention tech is.
Ask how it will scale
Scale can be a struggle, which is why credible attention technology platforms will also combine that deterministic eye-tracking panel data with probabilistic AI to extrapolate across large campaigns in real time.
Make sure it’s actionable
Some eye-tracking studies are just that — reports that require analysis and interpretation before they can be turned into strategies or tactics. As mentioned above, brands need to find ways to activate on attention; be that optimisation algorithms, attention-infused marketplaces, attention-guaranteed outcomes or more. The key is moving past understanding attention and into improving it on every impression we serve.
Many take issue with the Hype Cycle, suggesting it doesn’t map to real-world examples, but the point here still holds. If users attempt to adopt technologies and find them wanting, their excitement wears off and they look elsewhere for the answers to their problems.
Given the right approach, however, attention technologies present answers to the questions brands are asking — and that’s how we know that, provided we bypass the pitfalls above, attention has what it ultimately takes, not only to keep disillusionment at bay, but to drive a generational change in how we advertise.
Rob Hall is CEO of Playground xyz