The Critical Importance of Optimizing for Human Attention in Advertising

Attention is the most valuable resource in the advertising industry. It is a prerequisite for message reception, encoding, and ultimately, the ability to change perception and drive behavior. As advertising legend Bill Bernbach said, “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.” 

While the idea of measuring and optimizing for human attention to improve advertising effectiveness is becoming more prominent in the industry, there are still those who believe it’s a concept too ephemeral to properly be measured or too marginal to grant the investment needed to make it mainstream. 

This adverse perspective is often driven by a limited understanding of the nuances around this topic or a deliberate effort to protect a business interest. While there’s little I can do about the latter, I want to help address the former. I do so here by laying out some of the foundations for a constructive conversation around this fundamental resource. 

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The privacy conversation we should be having in the advertising industry

When Apple rolled out new privacy changes in iOS 14 that gave the option to block apps from doing any kind of tracking on their device, an estimated 94% of users decided to opt-in, rendering impossible almost any type of targeting on nearly 60% of smartphones in the US. While this comes across as a righteous move from Apple, it delivers a devastating blow to the advertising industry and the many companies that depend on it. In addition, it also brings a long-term toll on consumers, creators, and journalists that will not be immediately evident.

We’re not talking enough about this impact.

User privacy is of paramount importance, and further regulation is needed, but the way this change was implemented was a crass and selfish fix from a company that decided to create a polarizing narrative to a nuanced issue to contrive a differentiating feature. The communication associated with the release aggravates the situation by further distorting user perception and forcing other companies to quickly follow suit with similar one-sided solutions to avoid falling at a competitive disadvantage. Not to say there aren’t bad actors or companies that use consumer data irresponsibly or illegally, but these should not characterize the rest of the industry. As the saying goes, let’s not “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

But while Apple is exploiting common perceptions around advertising and tracking to its own advantage, the blame for making this possible goes to someone else. The advertising industry, the operators, the trade associations, and the executives (myself included) who have focused all their energies and resources in the past thirty years to make advertising more efficient and effective, should have taken time to educate people on the benefits of a functioning, transparent, and privacy-compliant advertising ecosystem.

For this reason, every time people think about advertising, targeting, tracking, and the use of data associated with it, they immediately assume nefarious intent or an invasion of their privacy. We shouldn’t be surprised if 94% of the population opts out of it when given a choice.

I want to take a moment to highlight some often-neglected aspects of the use of data in advertising and encourage a more nuanced conversation about advertising and privacy.

Four aspects we should consider when thinking about advertising.

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What the virus has shown me

We are facing a pandemic to a degree we’ve never seen in modern times, and there is a whole range of emotions in trying to deal with this new reality. We can’t avoid being afraid. However, part of me can’t help but see the current events as a force for good. 

All around the world, countries, companies, and individual people are making long-overdue changes now that we finally have the right incentive.

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4 predictions for TV advertising in 2020 and what it means for advertisers

Inspired by the 2019 State of Digital Marketing report by Luma Partners, I’ve decided to combine what they have shared with some of the data points I’ve been collecting over the past few months and come up with my 4 predictions for the TV and video industry in 2020 and related trends over the next two or three years. Based on these predictions, we can also speculate what advertisers and companies should do to keep their competitive edge.

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The idiosyncrasies of the TV advertising industry and what needs to happen

It has been a long hiatus. A new role at ABI has kept me busy in the past six months. During that time, I wrote a couple of pieces for AdExchanger that took me away from this blog, but I have had an itch to write a new opinion post.

As a digital marketer who is now responsible for a large TV budget, I decided to write about the current state of the TV advertising industry. It’s not surprising that someone with my background would be critical of a medium that has hardly evolved in the past 70 years, but I feel I can provide a different perspective. Besides, there’s little point in me discussing some hot topics of the digital marketing industry. Marc Prichard is already doing a tremendous job at demanding transparency and fair practice in the digital space, and he definitely has more pull than I have. There are also people with the caliber of Scott Galloway and Elizabeth Warren arguing for the need to  break up and regulate “big tech.” They have eloquent and extensive arguments; there’s little I can add there.

I see three idiosyncrasies as clear signs that the TV industry is desperate to reinvent itself to avoid disruption or obsolescence. While not extensive or equally applicable to all the players in the market, these signs serve to make a larger point: 

  • Audiences are traded like crude oil
  • Semantic innovation
  • Fluctuating moral compasses

In this analysis, I don’t want to only point out what’s wrong. I also want to offer some thoughts on how the TV industry could evolve to live a new golden age and truly oppose players like Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, and Google, who are not afraid of short-term losses, sit on piles of cash, will likely spend north of $30 billion in content, and pride themselves of being “category disruptors.” 

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