How much attention is there in the world?

This is a final extract from The Challenge of Attention, a booklet we have produced in partnership with Ebiquity and TVision.
Attention to advertising is a finite, and rare, and valuable commodity. But how much of it is there in the world? And how much of it goes to advertising?
One way of estimating this is to collect attention data and then apply this insight to media exposure data. Attention experts TVision and Lumen collect attention data from panels of respondents in the UK and the US. This enables them to understand how many ads people could see, and then how many ads people did, in fact, look at. These ‘attention factors’ can then be applied to data from the IPA Touchpoints survey, one of the most robust single-source media exposure surveys in the world. And that’s exactly what we did as part of Ebquity’s ‘Challenge of Attention’ report which you can download here.
Since 2005, IPA Touchpoints have interviewed 6000 respondents aged 15+ living in Great Britain about all their media habits. We can use Touchpoint’s data to estimate the total exposure time people have with advertising across different media. We can then apply Lumen’s and TVision’s models to estimate how much of that exposure time is actually spent looking at advertising.

The Touchpoint data suggest that in the UK we spend around 6 hours a day with commercial media of one type or another; and within that time are exposed to around an hour and a half of advertising; and actually spend around 9 1/2 minutes looking at it. When you add in data for OOH, email and DM, the total rises slightly, but the basic shape is the same.
Yes, people watch a lot of TV, but only 9% of that time is given over to advertising; and only 43% of those ads get looked at, each for an average of 13.8 seconds. This means that while people spend around 2 hours a day watching commercial TV, and 11 minutes in the presence of ads, they only spend around 3 minutes actually looking at TV ads per day.

By comparison, people spend less time on social media than they do with TV. But 27% of their feed is advertising and they are much less likely to ignore the ads. Does this mean that Facebook is a ‘better’ media than TV? Not so fast: when they do look at the ads, it is often for much less time than they do on the box. As a result, people spend around 2 minutes a day engaging with ads on social media.

Or take newspaper advertising. 5 out of every 6 newspaper pages carry advertising. Lumen’s research into press advertising suggests that people find press advertising very hard to miss, and on average tend to give it slightly more attention than social media advertising. As a result, while people only spend 20 mins a day reading newspapers, 1 1/2 minutes are spent looking at the advertising.
So how much attention in total do we spend with ads? If you assume a 16 hour day, or 960 minutes of total attention, around 1% of our total attention goes to the advertising listed here.

Some people might find this data dizzying: there’s so much attention in the world (and so little of it goes to advertising).
Others might find it humiliating: how dare you highlight how insignificant advertising really is!
Others still might find it demoralising: what’s the point of working so hard, fighting for such crumbs of attention?
We find it invigorating. This is how the world is, not how some of us would wish it to be. Now we know how much attention advertising really generates, we can really do something about it. Instead of looking at the world as through a glass, darkly, we can come face to face with reality.
This perspective also helps us understand the insights that recent (and not so recent) writers have highlighted about how advertising works:
·        Understanding the reality (and paucity) of attention to advertising in general helps explain why advertising is such a weak force – though one in which drips of attention calcify into durable memories, like stalactites.
·        Understanding cumulative impact of attention helps explain how long term branding primes the mind to accept short term messaging.
·        Understanding the distracted nature of our attention helps explain why simple, visual ‘emotional’ advertising is so much more effective than wordy ‘rational’ alternatives.
·        Understanding how advertising needs to earn attention explains why the pedlar needs to sing.
Advertising works. But it doesn’t work in the way we think it works. Until now, we’ve never known how our customers actually see our work. Now that we can see clearly, we can act accordingly. This is the challenge of attention.