Marketing for Consumer Attention

  There’s something outside the window, the sound of the hoover downstairs, or that bird that just doesn’t know when to stop chirping. Everything out there is vying for our attention. As 21st century individuals, our attention is our most valued commodity – yearned for by every commercial entity, requested through each and every advert and sales pitch.  

  And we have technology to thank for this – the proliferation of available information, each morsel of which is making a demand of us. But there’s an attention deficit. According to Google, 81 percent of consumers use multiple devices at once. Even when our attentions can be split – our computers, phones, even our watches – it can only be truly captured by one source at any given time. 

  It’s the primary challenge facing marketers today. How to create a brand that is that much more memorable, eye-catching and captivating? Consumers seek instant gratification. Every day they’re treated to an onslaught of short sales pitches, all crying out to be noticed. And as with most new technologies and strategies, digital advertising has plateaued into a game of increments, with each marketer attempting to interrupt the paralysis of choice that consumers face.

  So what’s the point of all this? There’s a battlefield within modern marketing. It’s a firework show, and each firework is an advert pitching to be the brightest and most colourful, the one that’ll shine triumphantly over the others. Instant gratification is a hindrance precisely because it has become more difficult to sell a story. That’s changing, slowly, with the emergence of story-driven marketing campaigns that seek to establish a branded IP. But again, it’s a firework, just one held with bated breath and anticipation, until that final pitch arrives and a puzzled audience muses on how they just got from A to B (think of every perfume commercial you’ve ever seen). Sometimes to be the most colourful is enough, and sometimes the hook can afford to be left until the very last moment. Anticipation is its own form of gratification; the variable is simply the targeted audience.

  On the other hand, consumers should know when they’re being sold to. A recent study showed that 65 percent of consumers feel that they are constantly bombarded by advertisements.[1] In actuality, people are sold to far more than they realise. And we’re not talking about the controversial subliminal sort of marketing by Coca Cola or the smoking companies – we’re talking about the advertisements that are discreetly buried within day-to-day internet browsing. It’s the news stories and the sponsored content, ubiquity of product placement in new media and everything in between. Native adverts, and the associated technologies, ensure users are being sold to each moment of the day. In this landscape a marketer’s true challenge is to capitalise on the available hours, and fiction becomes indistinguishable from reality. As with all digital and technological trends, there is a gap in knowledge between the inventor and the buyer. Consumers naturally take years to become savvy and to understand what has changed from five years ago. And marketers must be inventors to create the brightest firework in a saturated market, to introduce advertisements in places they did not previously exist.

  Magician, inventor, marketer, we’re all trying to impress. But as consumers ourselves, it’s important to know the difference between the fact and the fiction – to know when you’re being sold to so as to not confuse the two. It’s a game of captivation, so forgive us for our illusions. After all, when magicians pull rabbits out of hats they do so only to suspend reality, and not to distort it.

[1] Nielsen Online Global Consumers Study