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In Search of Attention

Feb 21, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Instead of complaining about how hard it is to reach people in our attention-deficit society, media agency Mediaedge:cia is taking a more active approach to getting consumers to stop, look and listen.
In a new report, the agency says brands and their communications now receive only the attention they deserve and no more. Attention is fragmented, and people multitask when the message at hand is already familiar or is not important enough to demand their full focus.
However, the report—called “Pay attention, please!”—maps out five states of attention on a continuum, observes which state of mind consumers are likely to be in with each state and suggests tactics for reaching them.
Based on a quantitative study of 22,255 adults in 23 countries, the Mediaedge report describes the first state as “full focus.” In this state, people are focused on a single task, and their attitude toward other messages is likely to be “leave me alone.” This state is most common when people are at work, the report says, and unless a message is directly relevant to the task they’re focused on, it’s going to be ignored in most cases. When trying to reach consumers in this state of attention, Mediaedge suggests functional media such as search, or media that work in the background, such as TV and radio.
The second state, according to the report, is multitasking. Mediaedge says women are more often in this state than men, as are senior and middle management at the office. People in this state need information they can access quickly, so the Internet is a powerful tool. Radio is important to multitask as a background medium. While 19 percent listen to the radio while in full-focus mode, 44 percent have the radio on while in a multitasking state, the report said.
The third state is described as “open attention.” In this state, consumers are not actively listening to messages around them, but are engaged in a constant type of low-level scanning and pay partial attention in response to some stimuli. Students and other young adults are most likely to be in this state, according to the report. “Media users in open attention will be far more willing to engage with ‘push’ media because they are passively looking to be entertained or informed,” the report said. Anything that might be more diverting than the task at hand may be employed, with 61 percent turning to television, 63 percent listening to the radio, 58 percent on the Internet, 55 percent talking on cell phones and 33 percent reading a magazine.
The fourth state is described as “active attention.” Again, younger audiences, in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic and the 25-34 bracket, report being in this state very often or often, according to the report. “As with open attention, there are opportunities for ‘push’ media that will entertain and engage. The majority of people in this state rely heavily upon traditional media for new stimulus,” the report said. People turn to TV, the Internet, magazines and newspapers and make calls on cell phones.
“Diffuse attention” is the fifth phase of the continuum. “Diffuse attention is a state where someone is relaxed and doing nothing in particular, with no focus on any stimulus,” the report said. “As with open and active attention, this is a state where people can be engaged by entertaining interruptions.” People in this state are commonly using TV and radio, which are popular as background media.
Some advertisers may find it disconcerting that a big proportion of media exposure takes place as background to other things going on in the consumer’s world. But these background channels can be used to engage consumers if the content and context are appropriate, the report said.
“In order to deal with the weight of information around us, [consumers] have become adept at scanning incoming communication when in partial attention. Advertisers must consider the context in which background media takes place and what will make people look up in that context: Why should they sit up and take notice, however temporarily? Brand communication must capture attention immediately—giving people a reason to read on, to engage, to act,” the report said.
Technology is changing how people act when they decide to pay attention. Digital video recorders provide an opportunity for instant replay of something a person may have wanted to pay attention to, but missed—or, on the other hand, make it easier to ignore something completely, whether it is a program or a commercial message.
Mediaedge suggests several dos and don’ts for capturing people’s attention.
“Remember that, although a threat to advertisers, partial attention offers a real opportunity for brand communication to engage the attention of people who are not fully focused on something else,” the report said.
“Aim to engage a target audience fully by pulling them out of partial attention rather than create communication that works within partial attention.
“Identify when a target audience will be in open or active attention-available for engagement—and consider what will be most likely to engage them in that context.
“Give people the opportunity to engage with brand communication in “action replay” at a time that suits them.”
Among the don’ts: One shouldn’t “assume that because someone is exposed to a brand touch point, they will give it their attention.”
Nor should one “interrupt people when they are in full focus or multitasking, unless the interruption is absolutely relevant to the task at hand.”

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