Scott Galloway, the "attention graph" and the shape of advertising to come

Professor Scott Galloway’s podcast this week is entitled ‘The Attention Graph’. Prof G, a taller, balder and richer version of Mark Ritson, is famous for his sweary wisdom about marketing. His weekly podcast, and the one he does with Kara Swisher, is very good. You should listen to them both.
This week’s podcast starts with a five-minute section about ‘attention graphs’. Marketers, he says, should put a differential on the attention of different consumers: five minutes of attention from a fat cat is worth much more than five minutes attention from a church mouse. To an extent, this is already represented in the gap pay to reach a thousand FT readers versus a thousand TV Quick readers.
The problem for marketers is that the attention of the affluent is getting rarer and rarer for advertisers to find. It is relatively easy to buy the attention of the poorest people in society: the people who watch ad funded TV, don’t pay for the premium version of Spotify, or access the web via Android phones. The rich, however, are progressively walling themselves off from ad intrusions. Part of the value of Netflix is not having to sit through the ads. Subscribers to The Guardian pay good money for a sponsored ad blocker. Apple makes a big deal out of the fact that your iPhone is not talking to advertisers.
Understanding the true value of the consumer attention that advertisers buy from TV stations and publications is very important. The first thing to do is understand the true cost of the attention you’re buying. Not all ad impressions are created equal in this respect: some are simpler to ignore than others, and there are big differences in the eyes-on dwell time that they receive. Combining these insights shows the real ‘attention grabbing’ power of each medium. In a research paper published in Warc last year, TVision and Lumen suggests that 1000 30-sec TV ads might generate around 6000 seconds of attention, whereas 1000 desktop digital ads might generate 148 seconds in total. If you don’t have a subscription to Warc (and you should get one, it’s very useful), you can get the gist of the article here.
But the cost of attention is only half the story. The other half of the equation – the outcome of the advertising – has to be taken into account before you can assess your ‘return on ad spend’.
This is a topic forcefully communicated by Ian Edwards and Harry Davison of Facebook in a recent article in Warc. I don’t agree with everything they say in their article, but I am sure that you don’t want to listen to me rebut their argument point by point. The only thing more boring than listening to other people’s arguments is listening to other people’s dreams.
What Ian and Harry get right is that we shouldn’t consider the input costs of advertising without also considering the outcomes. If you are making more money than you are spending in a particular media, then something is going right. If you can find the right people to give you the right amount of attention, then you should do even better. And this, to be sure, is something that Facebook does very well.
But Prof G’s podcast raises a different point. What if you can’t reach the right people for love nor money? – a very real prospect given the rise of Netflix, premium Spotify and iOS14. Last year, we spoke at an event sponsored by the nice people at Ebiquity called Mind the Gap, who noted the steady decline in linear TV consumption. This was marginally offset by increased consumption of video ads on Facebook and YouTube, but the net aggregate attention time to video advertising seemed to be declining, especially for younger, more affluent audiences.
One response to this is to cry ‘not fair!’. How is a hardworking marketer meant to create a brand without access to long-form TV ads? How can I put into practice all the sage advice of Les Binet or Orlando Wood if people won’t sit there and watch my lovely 30-second story?
Another response, perhaps more realistic and certainly less self indulgent, is to start thinking how we are going to make interesting and memorable brands in a post-TV world. This world is not here yet, and it may never come. But a version of it probably will, and what is a near-certainty is the slow-then-quick demise of mass-audience TV advertising. In the future, we will not be able to assume that everyone knows that Beanz Meanz Heinz because everyone saw the same ad last night on the telly. Even if people aren’t glued to Netflix and BBC iPlayer, thanks to the personalisation wonders of Peacock and AdSmart, we will all be seeing our own personal ads on our own personalised channels.
And what’s wrong with that? Bob Hoffman may mourn the passing of mass advertising, but what are we really missing as marketers? Brands were born and flourished before the advent of commercial TV, and without the need for huge aggregations of compelled attention. They used beautiful, majestic interruptive display advertising. They created engaging, empathic branded content. Or provided useful, practical branded utilities. Crucially, brands didn’t take our attention for granted. They knew, in a way that we have forgotten, that attention is earned.
The past could still be the future. Traditional paid-for advertising is an important business tool, but it is not the only way to advert consumers’ attention to our brands. As Paul Feldwick might have it, the peddlar has many tunes to sing, and should not feel constrained to one refrain.Advertising may be defined by attention, but there’s more to attention than traditional advertising.