How to grab people's attention... and keep it

Past behaviour is a poor guide to a consumer’s current mindset. Here’s a modern marketers guide to catching the consumers attention in a media saturated world.

In our multi-screen world, attention matters more than ever before. And while digital platforms are multiplying, the challenges brands face in trying to grab a share of their users’ attention are tougher than ever.

Peter Wallace, General Manager, EMEA, GumGum offers five tips to succeed in the attention economy. 

Numerous twists and turns have brought digital advertising to this point, and we can quickly summarise them:

  • Cookies, identifiers and mobile IDs are on their last legs

  • Trust in technology companies is dwindling

  • Regulation is rising

  • Ad fatigue is real

  • Consumers’ attention is a scarce and precious resource, creating an ‘attention economy’

In theory, today’s digital technology offers us numerous opportunities to grab attention. But in an over-saturated media world, cutting through requires the ability to understand and act upon a consumer’s mindset at any given moment.

We think the understanding of context, creative and attention - and how they work together - offers brands the best chance of doing that, and of grabbing their attention for long enough to move the dial for that brand. This is how it works:

1)    Move past the old methods

Targeting ads on the basis of consumers’ past behaviour has been discredited for its stalkerish, privacy-violating qualities, and that’s why - at least from 2023, when the third-party cookie is finally snuffed out - digital advertising can’t use those approaches anymore.

But even if we still could, that doesn’t mean we should. Past behaviour is a poor guide to a consumer’s current mindset, and it always was. Knowing who a person is, or where they have been, doesn’t tell you where they are right now. It is through understanding the consumer’s mood and frame of mind right this minute that we can work towards creating an ad experience that will grab their attention and keep it.

In other words, behavioural targeting may be something the market has been forced to replace, but it needn’t be something you miss. 

2)    Understand that every engagement has a different mindset

Digital platforms are proliferating. Plenty of studies - and of course the evidence of our own lives - testify to the fast-rising number of connected devices in the average home: laptops, smart TVs, smartphones, smart watches, Alexas, games consoles, Oculus headsets, Pelotons.

This is what a multi-screen world looks like, and there is much to be said for it, but it is not a straightforward landscape for advertisers. As users, our attention is pulled from one platform to another, and the type of attention we pay to any given screen is invariably very different - from watching a box set, to exploring an imaginary world through a headset, to taking a spin class, to scrolling on a phone while the kettle boils.

In every instance, the context and the mindset are different, and you need to understand both if you are to communicate successfully.

3)    Compute the context

Contextual targeting enables a brand to find audiences when they are in the right mindset for its message. It means putting the right ad in the right place, at the right time, close to a relevant topic, in order to increase ad relevance. According to GumGum’s own neuroanalytic study, contextual ads increase brand recall by 70%; they are 2.2x more memorable; and they are 10% more engaging than article content.

Understanding context doesn’t require personal data, but it does require deep analysis of the signals within an environment: words, images, video, audio and other available metadata. New AI models for natural language processing and image recognition can read these signals, create a picture of the environment as a whole and deliver engaging and relevant ads in real time.

For some media, we already understand very well how to read and interpret the signals. For others, including those that are still finding their advertising proposition, such as Connected TV and gaming, the picture is less certain, but contextual analysis will be one way we demystify them.

4)    Treat creative as the magic ingredient

According to the Chicago School of Psychology, people on average are exposed to over 6,000 ads a day - meaning that getting an ad in front of a person is only half the battle. Context gets you through the door, but it doesn’t seal the deal - creative does.

Data from Nielsen confirms that creative makes up 47% of an ad's success, and the winners are those that nail the messaging, the visual, the placement and the experience. High impact ads are important - we already know that consumers are largely impervious to standard digital inventory - and so are the fit with the site, e-commerce integrations, conversational opportunities and other attention-grabbing experiential touches.

The creative strategy is where a large part of the magic happens, but it is also the hardest part to prescribe, when the opportunities to be creative in a digital environment are literally limitless. But be engaging, startling and beautiful, methodical, amusing, unique - and create cohesive experiences that enhance the audience’s experience in that precise place, at that exact time.

5)    Measure attention for the proof you’ve got it right

We have a term for the interplay of context, creative and attention: the Mindset Matrix. And while context and creative have both been around, in less sophisticated forms, since the dawn of advertising, our ability now to measure the length of the engagement is very new and extremely significant.

Attention Time is, of course, the time spent with an ad, and it is the metric that lets you know your context and your creative are hitting the sweet spot of relevance. When it comes to attention on ads, we know for certain that more is more. Each extra second someone looks at an ad, brand awareness can rise by as much as 11%, and brand recall up to 7%. And, amid fierce competition for scarce consumer attention, earning these extra seconds is more critical than ever.

Incidentally, Attention Time should not be confused with viewability, which only measures the presence of an ad on a screen, not the time anyone spent looking at it. And compared to viewability, Attention Time is 7.5 times more important in driving awareness and 5.9 times more important for recall.

In summary…

Much of what has been missing from digital advertising in recent years is a sense of the importance of the consumer’s experience. So the overarching message to brands is to re-focus on that, and appreciate that there is only a finite amount of attention out there in the world. If you want to share in it, you will need to earn it, and that calls for cleaner, cleverer, contextual ways of marketing. If they can do that, marketers now have an opportunity to negotiate a new value exchange: better advertising for the consumer in return for better outcomes for their brand.

By Peter Wallace

General Manager, EMEA