Paying attention: Why advertisers need to learn that what works over a drink can also work on Facebook

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MEC’s Stuart Bowden asks where the attention has gone, why it matters and whether what works over a martini also works on Facebook.

What works over a drink can also work on Facebook

Late last year a client contacted us having just left a market research debrief with its advertising agency and was heading out for a bottle of wine to try and work out what on earth to do next.

The research had shown its ad recall scores tumble for the third quarter in a row. The usual treatments had been applied: more ratings had been purchased, more peak time negotiated, new edits with bigger logos had been procured; all to no avail.

Moving quickly through five stages of grief – denial and anger had given some relief, it had paused briefly at negotiation to work out if it could find a new research company to run the results again, and was now firmly lodged at depression. The hope was that we could help it reach the happy shores of acceptance.

This client was not alone. When we looked at the global ad recall scores for every category of advertising, as tracked by three leading research firms, we found that every one of them had declined significantly since the turn of the decade.

Of course, there have always been winners and losers in this space – great creative gets you far more than your fair share of attention – but by and large TV advertising was a decent enough way to predictably rent some headspace for your brand. But the winners and losers in this game are becoming more pronounced, with winners taking massive recall returns on their investment and the rest finding it steadily returning less.

Attention can no longer be demanded or expected by advertisers, and at any given moment almost every consumer has an alternative path to direct themselves towards if their interest slackens. These other paths are becoming the paths more travelled, with several seemingly irreversible trends driving the shift.

Firstly, the scale of multiscreening and its attendant ease of attention switching: Ofcom reports that 35 per cent of all TV viewing for 16-34s is now happening alongside another device being used. With near tablet and smartphone ubiquity this figure will surely continue to grow sharply.

Perhaps more interestingly Q4 2014 saw the majority of our digital content (and the type of display advertising which is co-existent with content) consumed as a result of a social cue rather than as an active search or choice. My hypothesis is that socially referred and connected content will attract more fleeting and less focused attention than searched or planned content consumption.

Given that all content will, in the near future, become digitally delivered and subject to these two forces, it is easy to see how attention will become increasingly difficult to compel and the need to genuinely (and socially) earn it will become the central task of marketers and their agencies.

In addressing the challenge of how to be worthy of interest and attention it is worth considering what we can learn from other situations where these outcomes have to be earned. At every cocktail party it is easy to observe how the skilled operators use some simple approaches to attract more than their fair share of scarce attention to themselves.

1. Know who you are, what you stand for and what you believe. No one wants to give their attention to someone with no conviction

2. Take visible pleasure in who you are. If you don’t enjoy your own company others are not going to want to hang out with you if they don’t have to (and they most definitely do not have to hang out with your advertising if they don’t choose to)

3. Modify yourself for your audience without being someone else. Now that we can start to see who we are talking to there is no excuse for not listening and tailoring our message.

Simple. Now let me get you a negroni whilst you tell me a little more about yourself…

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