Can’t keep my eyes off you: ATTENTION! Part 3

By Posted 28 May 2024

Firstly, here is a quick thumbnail of Part One and Part Two. Part One was about attention as it related to the human processing of marketing communications. Crucial to this process is the neural processing of vision. Focal and peripheral vision are important for different aspects of marketing communications.

If attracting new buyers is the brand’s marketing goal, then marketing communications will need to teach prospective buyers the rational reasons to believe. That means cognition and in the context of vision, that means focal vision and overt attention. Disruption (discussed below) is required to gain overt attention and so engage cognitive resources to facilitate this teaching. Complementing focal vision is peripheral vision which is processed non-consciously and is a gateway to emotional response and memory formation.

Part Two centers on the populist discourse relating to visual attention.

Asserting that visual attention independent of creative impact, has a positive relationship with incremental sales has been a surprising if not highly implausible finding. Attention is an antecedent to both effective and ineffective advertising. Attention alone is NOT a good measure of effective advertising. Successful marketing communications involves a non-conscious and conscious chain reaction of falling dominoes, where each domino is interdependent on the past, and the next dominoes. Many dominoes need to fall before one could claim effective advertising resulting in “sales uplift.” Gaining attention is one of them however, attention alone, certainly does not guarantee success.

Now onto Part Three.

Attention needs to broaden beyond sight

According to Dentsu and Karen Nelson-Field PhD, “An ad that is not seen is worthless. ” Keep in mind, humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste, and that all five sensory receptors can initiate attention. Whilst sight is an important element of processing marketing communications, so too are the other senses. For example, attention and indeed, recognition are generated through sound.

The origins of sound and marketing dates to Kotler’s ‘atmospherics’ and is better known today as ‘sonic branding.’ The doyens of advertising well and truly pre-dated the academic literature with the use of jingles dating back to the 1920’s. Sight is a powerful gateway to cognitive processing but so too is sound and indeed, other senses. And, just as there is an extensive body of literature on visual attention, there is also a rich academic literature into improving and suppressing sound-based attention. For example, Snyder.

Meanwhile, bakeries pipe scent into the street to initiative non- conscious and conscious processing.

According to Kantar, 84% of the ads tested have music . In 95% of instances, ads aired on YouTube have sound on and over 80% of Instagram reels are viewed with sound on.

It is an accepted fact that attention can be fleeting however, concluding that when someone’s gaze is elsewhere their attention is lost suggests humans only have one avenue to attention. Furthermore, absolute statements such as “If you can’t see it, you are not going to pay attention to it” are patently incorrect. Ipso facto, if that statement was true, audio tracks and radio would fail to gain attention.

Timeless foundational work

Before we take another breath discussing attention, we should acknowledge the seminal work of Robert Heath PhD. His work was independent of which sense was the source of the attention. If marketing communications is your profession or you are responsible for commissioning successful marketing communications, then I strongly commend the work of Robert Heath to you. Put aside that the work is more than a decade old, it remains far more relevant and applicable than much of what is on today’s pop charts. Already discussed in Part One and Part Two, Heath posited that marketing communications was processed with high, low and no attention. Exhibit One shows the adapted Heath model as applied by Forethought.

Incidentally, when Forethought added our implicitly measured feelings scale to include low and no attention processing, the unique variance explained in explaining consumer choice lifted by around 25% .

Attention part 3 2

Exhibit One: High, low and no attention processing

The critical finding by Heath is that information can be processed with little or no cognitive processing. That is, no attention. The exhibit shows the bottom pathway of no attention with implicit learning. I am uncertain how well this is understood amongst those who believer higher attention equals effective advertising.

Disruption is one of the dominoes

Previously discussed in Part One and Two has been the executional antecedent of attention, disruption. In the Forethought Feelings scale, the emotion Surprise which can be either positive or negative, is found to result in attention. In the academic literature, the emotion surprise presents as novelty. Novelty is a deviation from expectations. ‘Novelty has a wide range of effects on cognition; improving perception and action, increasing motivation, eliciting exploratory behavior, and promoting learning.’ The objective in marketing communications is to teach the reasons to believe and stimulate a discrete emotion linked to buyer behaviour. Teaching requires cognitive processing which is non- divisible. Disruption is the means for halting other processing to enable the prospect’s presence.

Attention part 3

All in All

So, in a nutshell, if it is not overt attention – processed at either high or low levels, then it is not cognition linked to conscious learning. The marketing communication paradigm is to disrupt to gain consciousness and then teach rational reasons to believe. Ads “viewed” covertly do not lead to conscious learning. Attention arises from stimulating any of our senses and not just vision. Surprise, novelty and deviation lead to presence which opens the opportunity for attention and learning.

If you were hoping to accurately assess the effectiveness of the marketing communications, you would need to assess whether the communication successfully stitched the target discrete emotion to the brand and the audience encoded to memory, the intended rational reason to believe.

Apparently, the 16th century French astrologer Nostradamus and 20th century entertainer Frankie Valli had a capacity for predicting the future. In 1967 Frankie Valli recorded his hit song ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.’ The opening lyrics were “You’re just too good to be true.” Do you suppose the entertainer had in mind the recent surge of vendor solutions aimed at measuring attention?