Seeing the world through others' eyes

We’ve been in South Africa this week, talking to audiences in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town about an attention study we have conducted on behalf of Caxton Newspapers. The attention data we reported says something about Caxton, and something about South Africa. It’s helped me see how South Africans see the world – literally.
Attention to newspaper ads in South Africa seems extremely high. Whereas a full-page print ad in the UK might get 3 seconds attention, they regularly get 5-10 seconds attention in SA. They get almost as much actual attention as TV ads produce. How do they do it?
The excess attention is due, in part, to the increased engagement with the articles and the layout of the pages that we see in the newspapers we tested. People read the articles for longer than they do in the UK, and as a result they have a better chance of looking at the ads, and looking at them for longer.
But it’s also due to the way in which South Africans use advertising. South Africa is a rich country struggling with intense economic pressures. This makes regular South Africans acutely price sensitive: they plan their purchases and research the best deals. In such conditions, advertising is less of an irritant, and more of a utility, especially at the end of the month. And so we see ads being used as a catalogue of short term offers rather than embedding long term memories.
We sometimes see this sort of behaviour in Britain too. Ever since Walmart-owner Asda brought Black Friday over to our shores, the papers are full of monster deals in late November. And in these conditions, we see similar attention patterns for UK advertising. It’s just that it’s Black Friday every day in South Africa.

Two important insights arise from this data. Firstly, beware anyone who claims to tell you that there is only one way ‘how advertising works’: it does different jobs at different times for different people.
But secondly, it reveals the true power of eye tracking in revealing the lived experience of other people. It lets marketers (and even non-marketers) see the world through the eyes of people that they might not otherwise understand. In an odd sort of way, eye tracking software is a tool for empathy and understanding. You may see it one way, but other people may see it differently. Literally.
Thanks so much for the hospitality and generosity of the Caxton team.