Marketers’ attention and Consumers’ attention



Next Monday, Lumen, Ebiquity and TVision will be presenting data from The Challenge of Attention, our pathbreaking analysis of attention to ads across media, at the ARF Audience x Science Conference – 1p EST, 5pm UK time. There are still tickets available to sign up to hear Yan Liu, TVision’s CEO, lay down some stone-cold truth.
One of the most important things you’ll learn is that consumers don’t look at ads the same way marketers look at them. You, dear reader, are weird: you care about ads in a way that your target audience doesn’t. As a result, you probably give ads – and especially your own ads – more attention than they receive in reality. Most people don’t look at ads with the rose-tinted glasses – or rose-tinted microscope – that you use.
This is an important learning – perhaps the most important learning that we have ever made. But while it is new to us, it’s an intuition that the best marketers have always known deep down.
I can remember sharing a desk with Sarah Carter when I worked at DDB London. She would frequently remind anyone who would care to listen how little most people cared about most ads. ‘Planners should have Post It notes on their desk saying “They don’t really give a shit”’, she has written. ‘People’s indifference to brands and advertising should be the starting point.’
(It’s nice to see that her wisdom has now been recognized by Mark Ritson as one of the most important insights from people who aren’t dead white men).

Now, before we bemoan yet another failure of modern marketers, we should remember that this professional hypervigilance is probably a necessary evil. You have a lot riding on your attention to detail. Things like your mortgage depend on you reading the body copy and checking the small print. Imagine if you only gave two seconds of attention to the ads that you are tasked with making or distributing?
And this is why eye tracking is so important. You can’t see your own ads with a consumer’s eye – and you never will. It’s too late: you’ve got an educated eye. But with attention technologies like Lumen’s you can see, unfiltered, what your consumers see – and what they ignore.
This led us to start thinking about how marketers see the world, and especially how marketers learn. After all marketers aren’t always experts. Sometimes they are the students, too.
To understand this better, we teamed up with the guys at Turtl, who have developed an astonishing digital technology that brings marketing and educational materials to life. They turn dry and boring pdfs into amazing interactive experiences – on mobile as well as desktop.
We wanted to understand the impact of using Turtl technology to bring The Challenge of Attention to life. Most marketing materials are put forward as books and standard digital documents. What happens if you take a more interactive approach?
So, working with the nice people at Panelbase, we did the one thing you’re not meant to do in market research: we talked to a bunch of marketers. Given Panelbase’s high standards of recruitment, they found it hard to find 150 people in the US and UK who they would normally exclude from their surveys. But given their dedication to the cause, they managed to do it.
We split the marketers into three cells of 50. The first cell of 50 saw the bog-standard PDF version of our document; the second cell saw the Turtl-ised version, on desktop; and the third saw the Turtlised version on mobile.
And the results were spectacular. The Turtl-sed documents saw between 7 and 10 times more engagement than the pdf version. The average page view time went from 16 seconds for the pdf to 134 seconds for the mobile version and 177 seconds for the desktop version.
And this extra attention led to deeper communication or the main and better reader perceptions of the research. 33% of readers thought that Lumen, Ebiquity and TVision’s work was ‘scientific’ after skimming over the pdf. A whopping 55% thought it was scientific once they had engaged with the content a bit more closely, thanks to Turtl’s technology.
What can we learn from this – apart from the urgent need to invest in Turtl’s technology?
Firstly, marketers are people too. Making things easy and interactive is as good a bet when talking to the CMO as when you’re talking to your average consumer.
Secondly, more is always more. Yes, people can get the gist of things in a couple of seconds – even 16 seconds. But if you engage for longer, you understand more and you remember more. Getting people to engage is both the chicken and the egg of communication: because it’s interesting they read more – and because they read more, they find it more interesting and memorable. Our challenge as marketers (especially marketers marketing to marketers) is to start the ball rolling in the first place.
And finally, just because you email someone something, and just because they open it, doesn’t mean that they have read it; and just because they have read it doesn’t mean that they have understood it. Complex, counter-intuitive insights such as those proposed by Lumen and TVision need time to resonate and make sense: we cannot assume attention or comprehension. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to us (of all people!), but we should take our own medicine.