David Ogilvy said in his 1963 book Confessions of an Advertising Man that "a good advertisement" is one that sells the product without drawing attention to itself. "It should rivet the reader’s attention on the product," Ogilvy said.
Much has changed since he penned these words and today’s media landscape is almost unrecognisable to that of 50 years ago, but the rules of the game have not changed.
As Ogilvy said, advertising is all about attention.
The importance of attention has never been more critical. The proliferation of media means that commanding undivided attention has become a very different challenge to even 10 years ago.
Every week, we see statistics about the billions of notifications sent and the hundreds of times that people check their phone on a daily basis.
We are also increasingly aware of the effects of this behaviour on our mental health, anxiety, sleep and, of course, ability to engage consumers in advertising.
What’s more, we are seeing advertisers put a priority on poor-quality attention as a consequence of an increased focus on short-term goals, as Enders Analysis and Magnetic show in their report in 2017.
The digitalisation of content and distribution has made everything cheaper and easier, while the abundance of data has enabled targeting and audience optimisation.
This approach may work for some brands, and it definitely has a role, but it undermines advertising’s opportunities to capitalise on deeper, more meaningful measures of attention that can be lucratively cultivated in the long term.
It also ignores what consumers are telling us everywhere we turn – that we need to be more mindful of their precious attention and to stop bombarding them.
This finite and precious resource of attention may have reached saturation point. We are beginning to see evidence of this with recent reports both in the UK and the US showing growth in total time spent consuming media plateauing.
As a result, some astute commentators have begun to raise the idea of us having reached "peak attention".
Our moments of undivided attention are becoming rarer and the challenges around trust in advertising, seen most recently in research from the Advertising Association’s think tank, Credos, mean getting consumers to pay attention is increasingly hard to achieve.
We believe it’s time for a reappraisal of the channels and environments where consumer attention, trust and positivity around the advertising are high.
Our industry has long needed to shift focus from viewing attention as "time spent" to measuring the quality of attention.
As advertising’s most precious commodity, if we don’t focus on cultivating higher-quality attention, we are jeopardising the sustainability of a key part of the model in the long term.
At Magnetic, we have a clear and unashamed interest in bringing this debate to the fore.
Magazines have long been recognised as a channel that commands the undivided attention of the reader – where attention to the advertising is nearly as high as attention to the editorial content, where the advertising is welcomed, not avoided, and is a positive part of the experience for the reader.
Relevancy, positivity and trust underpin the high-attention status of magazines.
As our content and brands have migrated successfully to other platforms, publishers have been mindful of the need to cultivate and cherish consumers' attention elsewhere.
Studies from Magnetic and Newsworks show that attention offered online to premium publishers is high-quality relative to industry averages.
However, there is a disconnect between countless studies showing the effectiveness of magazines and print (see recent work from Thinkbox, Radiocentre, the IPA and Magnetic) and current investment levels into the sector.
This perception gap is undeniably a print gap and one that we believe is being exacerbated by the lack of value placed on high-quality consumer attention.
This is why Magnetic, backed by the magazine industry, has launched a campaign promoting this inherent strength of magazines. Delivering high-quality attention to advertising at great value is what magazines do best.
We need to get better at measuring attention
Measuring attention is undeniably a challenge. A single metric is unlikely to fully account for the different types of attention and all the variety of factors that influence it.
In "Attention please", the first part of a new research programme conducted by Magnetic with Bournemouth University and PHD, we highlight the key contextual factors that need to be considered when measuring attention.
Those include assessing the purpose of the advertisement, looking at how the media is being experienced and analysing the relationship between the consumer and the media brand or channel.
We have taken no account yet of a key determinant on what we attend to: the quality of the creative. Our next study aims to tackle this.
The success of any advertising on any channel is determined by the effectiveness of its outcomes.
For attention to be taken seriously as a topic for our industry to tackle, there needs to be a clearer link between attention commanded by different media channels and the KPIs that drive hard business outcomes.
Magnetic’s work aims to start a conversation about the way we best do this. Everyone in the advertising industry should be paying attention.
Sue Todd is chief executive of Magnetic
Pay Attention: Magazines’ Role in the Media Mix is published by Magnetic