Harnessing Attention for Good

February 24, 2023

J. Brooks founded video advertising platform GlassView almost nine years ago after working at Morgan Stanley and Conde Nast, where he executed the majority of US digital advertising campaigns for Vogue, Reddit and Wired online. He spoke to Realeyes about how he disagrees with those who say attention is scarce, why those who abandoned brand building continue to suffer, and how attention measurement can truly be a force for good.  

Why is attention important for advertising and marketing? 

It's important because when people put their attention on something, they can accomplish so many things. From the creation of nuclear energy to putting a man on the moon when we devote our attention to something the results can be nothing short of miraculous.

What is the reason for why attention remains a very hot topic?   

If you think about the marketing funnel, such as the upper funnel and awareness and then below it you have attention, and then maybe some action driving sales and then advocacy below that.   If you think about 10 years ago, when there was all this interest in virality and getting people to share videos with their friends, all the way to the bottom of the funnel, sharing brand advocacy. and so, it's almost like we went from awareness up here all the way to the bottom of the funnel.  Then, more recently, over the past 5 years or so, there's been this sort of ardent focus on conversions you're driving towards. Last click attribution and direct response-type advertising, and so we moved up the funnel a bit towards action. 

But all the while I think we've really been missing out on this sort of final piece, which is attention, and that's where you have the opportunity to make people actually feel something. And remember your brand long term, so it it's sort of a circuitous way of getting back to what really matters in marketing from the first place. 

There's obviously creative attention measurement looking at the actual content and how it might perform. And then there's the environment. Should those be working together, or should they be viewed separately?    

They have to be used together. Over the past 5 or 10 years, we've had this focus on direct response results from a lot of the big players that see this below-the-line activation players have been sort of driving, driving the bus.  The common cry you heard in the industry was “creative doesn't matter.” We have optimization tactics and algorithms that can drive performance and get you the conversions you're looking for. Don't worry about the creative; it’s an afterthought.  I think brands are realizing that was probably ill advised, and those brands [who ignored creative] are seeing consumer attrition and are losing market share. Never before has brand market share been so in flux as it is now. 

Ultimately, I think that the companies that focused on brand building and on developing long term customer relationships have always been winners throughout marketing history, and they'll continue to win. 

With 2023 being a time of economic uncertainty, what's the best case to make to marketers to continue to invest in attention? 

I would almost look at it from the opposite perspective. Glassview did a study where we noticed one of our financial clients started to move from attention metrics, time spent on site, and customer-building exercises to post-impression attribution and post-click attribution – so they were moving to the bottom of the funnel. They have been a really awesome partner of ours in that they shared with us from the onset customer lifetime value.   So customers who, you know, may have just gotten a credit card were one bucket, but customers who had a mortgage and credit card and other financial products [we’re in another bucket]. And when they optimized towards the lower parts of the funnel, the customer lifetime value decreased directly with the investment towards DR-only tactics, and it decreased at an exponential rate.  And so, what we learned very quickly is that if you're not focusing on that brand building and not focusing on developing relationships with your customer base, you may get transactional, quick wins now, but at what cost for the future for your brand?  

What's the best advice for attention-lagging brands who have committed to getting smarter about their measurement in 2023?   

Test and learn, realizing that there are different parts of not only the marketing funnel, but the science funnel to understand attention.  If you've only been doing surveys for now, maybe that's part of this: the sociology, the psychology, the software side of who is my target audience and where do they live? And maybe what makes them tick as self-reported? As you move down the science funnel into psychology, biology, even chemistry and physics, you start to understand better, almost from a frequency and molecular level, what makes your customers tick.  I think Realeyes has been really leading the charge in this area by basing their technology on physiological responses, the real-time response from these micro expressions that are being assessed. 

It’s not passing through the lens of how should I respond or what does the panelists want me to say? And in the future, there are going to be opportunities to look at brainwave activity - what sort of neurological responses are these ads creating with my target audience? Ultimately, you should get your feet wet and start thinking about a sort of multifaceted approach to gauging attention that is more undeniable.  

I am in meetings frequently where clients say to me that attention is scarce. I don't know if I fully subscribe to that. I think attention is valuable, and the opportunity to get attention is becoming scarcer. But if you look at what we've been able to create as a society and a human race when we put our attention onto something, it is nothing short of invigorating. 

If you look at things like the words written, there's been more written and published since 2000 than all the decades and centuries and millennia before. If you get a stopwatch and track people's attention, it’s going from an average of 3 min to one and a half minutes 10 years ago, to now 75 seconds or less today, it paints this unrealistic picture of what's happening. 

At the same time, attention is supposedly going down creation, innovation, and the connection between people is going up dramatically. So, let's not fight the trend, let's capitalize on it. Let's get smarter together and figure out better ways to harness attention for good.