29 Jan 2014  Working Papers

The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should Care, and What You Can Do about It

Executive Summary — Attention is the allocation of mental resources, visual or cognitive, to visible or conceptual objects. Before consumers can be affected by advertising messages, they first need to be paying attention. As Thales S. Teixeira writes in this paper, the quality of consumer attention has been falling for decades. Consumers have lost interest in the information content of ads because they can access more and better information on‐demand on the Web. In addition, the price of marketers' acquiring high-quality attention has increased by as much as nine‐fold in the past two decades. To compensate for these circumstances marketers have typically responded by advertising more or by pursuing other means, such as price promotions, to acquire customers. However, these tactics risk eroding current profits and future revenues. A better solution, argues Teixeira, is to find cheaper attention or increase its conversion into sales. Novel approaches described in the paper, such as Lean Advertising and Viral Ad Symbiosis, can help to mitigate the rising cost of attention. Ultimately, in order to effectively manage the valuable resource of consumer attention, marketers will need to tailor their advertising strategies to the attention contingently available to them. This paper shows how to achieve this through Teixeira's Attention‐Contingent Advertising Strategy. He also lays out the fundamental principles of the economics of attention, an emerging field. Key concepts include:

  • The value of consumer attention is rising. Marketers need to manage consumer attention better. This paper is intended to help them in this regard.
  • The cost of acquiring consumer attention has increased dramatically (seven- to nine-fold) in the past two decades.
  • Marketers can tailor their advertising strategies to the attention contingently available to them.
  • When marketers stop asking "What do I want to achieve from the advertisement?" and begin asking "What can my consumers achieve if they share the advertisement?" they then start the process of creating truly consumer‐centered advertising, that which benefits the consumer's social needs.

 

Author Abstract

Attention is a necessary ingredient for effective advertising. The market for consumer attention (or "eyeballs") has become so competitive that attention can be regarded as a currency. The rising cost of this ingredient in the marketplace is causing marketers to waste money on costly attention sources or reduce their investment in promoting their brands. Instead, they should be thinking about how to "buy" cheaper attention and how to use it more effectively. Research in the emerging field of the Economics of Attention shows how this can be achieved. Here, I argue that, irrespective of the means to attain it, attention always comes at a price. I also show that the cost of attention has increased dramatically (seven- to nine-fold) in the last two decades. To counteract this trend, I propose novel approaches to lower its cost or use attention more efficiently by adopting multitasker-tailored ads, Lean Advertising, and Viral Ad Symbiosis. To guide the choice of which approach to take, I propose the Attention-contingent Advertising Strategy, a framework to match the most effective approach to the quality of attention contingently available. As the value of attention rises, marketers need to become better managers of attention. This paper is intended to help them in this regard.

Paper Information