3 tips for winning the attention economy

Thomas Z. Ramsøy

August 11, 2021

The past decades have revolutionized our understanding of human attention. We have a good understanding of the inner brain workings during attention. In addition, we have realized that attention is a scarce resource. With the rise of social media and the ever digitized economy, customer attention is now a centerpiece of how we communicate with customers. We cannot assume that customers are willing and interested in spending a second with our ads.

So how do we ensure attention to our otherwise antiquated caveman and cavewoman brains?

Based on the latest science, and our own years of experience in this industry, here are three key insights:

Make a 1-second strategy

We were recently involved in the social media industry's largest neuromarketing study to date. The study was conducted with the Mobile Marketing Association and the Advertising Research Foundation, and included all major social media channels as partners.

Over 1,000 participants went through the test, which included both eye-tracking and EEG brain scanning. Here, they scrolled their social media feeds. Unbeknownst to the participants, we inserted ads into their feeds. This allowed us to better measure the level of attention as well as emotional and cognitive responses to the ads.

Prior to the study, the industry had used a 3-second rule of thumb. Ads had to be in screen for at least 3 seconds before they could count as an exposure.

The study made some stunning observations:

  1. Within the first second, ads had been seen, responded to, and improved recall
  2. Ads were only attended on average by little more than 3 seconds.

The consequence? We need a 1-second ad strategy. So now the question is: how will you communicate your ad within 1 second?

You can read more about the study as a Neurons Inc case.

Avoid the corner of death!

Attention is not evenly distributed across an image or video. Rather, there are certain "dead" areas where few if any are paying attention.

One particularly dead area is the bottom right corner of an image. Here, attention barely makes it over 5%. In other words, 95% or more of viewers of your creative are likely to miss whatever you show there.

In this Honda ad, there is a lot going on in the actual ad, but the brand itself is hidden down in the corner of death. With a Predict analysis using the AOI approach, it is obvious that the brand will get virtually no attention. To make matters worse, even the brand being used in the top left corner does not help: it is too small and too non-salient to be noticed.

It is surprising how many ads actually position their brand in the bottom-right corner. Try it yourself, search for "print ad" and look at the image results, and then make a count. How many ads use the brand in the corner of death?

The upside: you now have a competitive advantage. Two actually:

  1. You now know about the corner of death
  2. You know that Predict helps you test what works best

To read more about the corner of death, you can read this blog post.

We have an attention bandwidth limit

As we mentioned, attention is a scarce commodity. With that, we also have a limited bandwidth in how much we can process at the same time.

In ads and other creatives, this also means that we have to limit how much information we present to our audience.

When we increase the complexity of an image or a scene, we reduce the likelihood that any single item will be seen. There's just too much competition!

This is where you can use the Cognitive Demand and Clarity scores in the Predict platform.

As a reminder:

  • Cognitive Demand is a score that shows the amount of information a picture holds. Complex images have a higher cognitive demand. This is also related to what scientists call a higher perceptual load.
  • Clarity is a score that indicates how scattered or gathered attention will be in a picture. In a picture where people are "all over the place" the Clarity score will be low. When a single thing or two grabs attention, Clarity will be high.
In this ad, there is too much going on. The low Clarity score suggests that attention will be too scattered. The high Cognitive Load also suggests that there's too much going on in this picture. To make matters worse, this ad also has the brand down right there in the corner of death.

Try it for yourself. Reach out to us to get access to Predict.

3 tips for winning the attention economy

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