THE [PEAK] ATTENTION ECONOMY

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk by Faris Yakob of Genius Steals. Although I am not sure what the original title of his deck was, the way he explained his viewpoint of advertising was inspiring. He began by establishing what he understands as the original goal of advertising: to focus attention onto one’s brand. This definition of advertising lead the group down a rabbit hole of trying to get a grasp on ‘attention’, which brought us to some fruitful places. Eventually, Faris’s talk made it to this quote (on the left). This is was a lightbulb moment for me because the word “lend”, specifically, establishes two things about attention that twisted my view of the entire concept: First, attention holds some sort of value, otherwise nobody would ever ask for you to lend it to them. Second, attention is a finite resource because if it was infinite, then there would be no need to ask to borrow any. 

Those two principles define attention as a commodity, and the way my brain works, I felt I needed to translate The Attention Economy and Faris Yakob’s ideas into how your Sophomore year macroeconomics teacher would have explained it to you.

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We’re marketers. We took economics in college and said, “Yep, screw that. I’m sticking to the 4 P’s”. But, I’ll try to take as few paragraphs as possible to explain everything you need to know about macroeconomics. Everything in our supply and demand graph (as seen on the left) is meant to establish what quantity of attention will be sold (Q) and at what price per unit (P). And there are 2 factors that fluctuate to establish those two things: Demand (how much attention advertisers are demanding from the public) and Supply (how much attention the general public is willing to give media companies). 

Where the demand line crosses the supply line, that is the exact P&Q where the amount of attention demanded by advertisers is the same as the amount of attention the public is willing to give up. Annnnndddd now that we have made the Supply and Demand curve, we can return back to Faris’s talk. (More questions? look here

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In semi-recent years, the internet has matured, phones ended up in our pockets, major social media platforms have appeared, and media companies are pushing content out like crazy, which means advertisers are increasing the amount of attention they are asking the public to dedicate to media. And because media companies and advertisers are demanding more, the demand line raises.

 

 

 

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And, up to this point, the public has been willing to comply and, because they want the new content, they are willing to trade their free time for it. They have consistently been dedicating more attention to media, and the supply goes up. This pattern of S&D increasing has existed for some time. The worthiness of media content traded for one unit of attention (P on our graph) has stayed relatively flat, but the amount of attention that is now dedicated to media (Q on our graph) has gone up. This has happened with every major media invention - incrementally increasing the amount of attention that the public has dedicated to media. 

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Neither I, nor Faris, are making up this phemomenon. Faris quoted this study by eMarketer in his talk. People are now spending 12 hours a day consuming some sort of media. He put it in perspective through simple math: We are recommended to spend 7 hours a day sleeping, 8 hours a day working, and now 12 hours a day consuming media. That (and we’re not even considering talking, eating, etc.) adds up to 27 hours a day. It is not surprising that we are on our phones while eating and having to consume media on different devices at the same time — we have to overlap these different activities in order to meet the market equilibrium for attention. 

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So here is where Faris’s talk blew my mind. “Peak Attention” is Faris’s idea that we have maxed out the amount of attention that people are willing to dedicate to media. So as there is an increase in the amount of attention demanded by media companies, the general public is saying, “nope”. This is disrupting the existing pattern. Since people are no longer going to increase the amount of time they spend consuming media in a day (the supply curve will no longer move), the amount of attention sold to media companies (the Q in our graph) can no longer increase. 

 

 

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So in an effort to keep their media consumption constant, people have started to cut things that used to be worthy of attention, in favor of things that now meet the higher P (aka the amount that one unit of attention is worth). If the idea of peak attention is correct, then the P will go up and the amount of time each person spends consuming media should remain flat.

Here are some examples of how people are cutting media channels that are no longer ‘worth’ their attention: ad-blocking banner ads, cord cutting, opting out of social media accounts, and going without a smart phone. 

This may feel like it is getting a bit abstract, but here is what I am trying to say: it now costs advertisers and media companies more to get one unit of attention. 

But this ‘cost’ is not defined by some monetary amount. Because P (in our graph) is what you pay the public for one unit of their attention, and you pay them in the currency of amazement, awesomeness, inventiveness, innovation, and value of a creative idea. This long blog post is only trying to say that the public is not willing to see the same old stuff or things that are just slightly different. They are beginning to ask a higher price, aka higher quality of ideas. 

Faris’s idea of Peak Attention is due to shake things up because media companies are now beginning to compete against each other to win people’s attention. They will have to outbid each other (have a better idea) in order to actually get eyeballs. This is a good thing for our industry. Hopefully, ads and media that don’t have a high enough worth will be lost. In theory, the internet should start weeding itself of poorly made, intrusive, and annoying content. Advertisers and media companies need to start thinking of how they are meeting the new price point that the public is setting because it is no longer enough to push out media/ads and count on people to see it. You have to steal them from someone else’s media channels.