Sunday, May 26, 2019

Advertising is all about attention. Have I got yours?

Not only self righteous bloggers strive for your attention, but many others try to calculate how to extract whatever value might be accessible from your attention.  We all strive to get attention, but Tim Wu focuses on how advertising and resistance have evolved through various attention platforms, although the masses don't quite understand how they are being manipulated.

Tim Wu in the beginning and at the end  of "The Attention Seekers," offers a William James quote that is even more relevant today.  "When we reach the end of our days our life experiences will equal what we have paid attention whether by choice or default.  We are at risk without quite realizing it of living lives that are less our own than we imagine."

Understanding the brain is central.  We have survived because our brains have evolved.  We can receive something like 11 million bits of perceptions every second.  At the same time we have learned to ignore almost all of them.  Focus is the attention we pay to something we feel is important, or it can be a default habit in response to stimulus.  For an interesting perspective on focus check out

Newspapers were not read by everyone.  They tended to be supported by political factions or by vanity.  In New York the established papers charged 6¢ each with a circulation around 2,000.  Benjamin Day, a printer had an idea--he would charge 1¢ which was below his cost, but would use the anticipated increased circulation as a platform for merchants to promote themselves.  At first his idea did poorly as he sold only 300 copies in September of 1833.  To boost readership he learned that the most interesting stories came from covering the courts.  One issue for readers was runaway slaves.  His paper the New York Sun had reached a daily readership of over 5,000, but soon attracted copycats and soon competition was driven by sensationalism.  Advertising revenue became more important than distribution revenue.

In the 1860's in Paris, printers using British technology developed posters which could be produced in significant numbers to spread around the city.  They used attractive female models, colour and the appearance of motion to attract attention.  During World War I General Kitchener directed recruiting efforts to include posters.  Early ancestor to billboards.  There were from the beginning people who protested that posters took away from enjoyment of walking (and later driving) by them.  Some felt they were unaesthetic while others were conscious of being manipulated and in general having their attention diverted without consent. Many jurisdictions have placed restrictions on billboards, but they fight against the need to generate revenue that comes when taxes are cut. 

Walter Lippmann noted the concept of manufactured consent with regard to military recruiting efforts with posters, martial parades.  Celebrities were found to manipulate enlistments.

Another concept started to be articulated.  Demand engineering where the author uses the example of halitosis was brought  up as socially embarrassing, but with a cure from Listerine.

An interesting example coming from Lucky Strike cigarettes being endorsed by opera singers and doctors.  Continuing with Lucky Strike, Edward Bernays was upset to learn that his wife had been asked not to smoke in a restaurant, supposedly as it was considered effeminate.  In 1929 he arranged to have a parade of attractive women smoking Lucky Strikes which were touted as torches of freedom.  In an effort to increase women smoking they pointed out that smoking is a diet aid.  From the 1920's to the 1930's smoking among women had tripled.

In 1929 advertising had reached 3% of gross domestic product.  That year Stuart Chase and Frederick Schlink wrote a book criticizing advertising as distorting the economy.  Consumer Research was founded as a means of combating misleading advertising.  A lot of discussion defending advertising.  Legislation was proposed to curb advertising abuses, but lobbyists succeeded in watering it down.

Surprisingly radio was not thought of as an advertising medium at first.  Radio had developed the concept of programming to draw listeners.  A very key program was "Amos n Andy" which today would be considered racist, but drew large numbers of families.  Its success was attributed to its use of plots.  William Paley was given the CBS radio network by his wealthy father.  Paley got the idea to offer the program to affiliate stations for free in exchange for carrying ads.  Once the idea caught on it was easy to expand the network.  

Advertisers gained a tool during the radio era in 1936.  Robert Elder produced an audimeter to measure radio listeners.  Arthur Charles Nielsen developed a black box and started churning out Nielsen Reports for radio in 1947.

One nation that used radio most effectively was Germany under the Nazi regime.  Radio penetration in Germany matched that of the United States and the United Kingdom.  Hitler's unique talent was as a dynamic speaker.  In crowded rooms he was able to to rouse large numbers of people, but the Nazis soon realized radio would allow a wider audience.  The Nazis instituted what we might call radio police to ensure that Germans were listening to Hitler's speeches.

Television was actually available for the 1936 Olympics, but for awhile trailed radio and cinema for attention.  In 1952 television had reached only 9% of American houses, but by 1956 had rocketed to 72%.  A big boost came from Elvis Presley who on September 9, 1956 reached 82.6% of all tv watchers.  "I Love Lucy" became the most popular regular show later topped by "The 64,000 Question."  There were for most owners only 3 networks to choose from.  Television shows evolved from a single sponsor to multi commercials.  For many people commercials were a time to visit their refrigerator or bath room or change channels.  Script writers developed tricks to maintain interest through the commercials.  The adoption of remote controls allowed easier channel switching or muting.

1957 was the year Vance Packard's book, "The Hidden Persuaders" came out and my father actually bought a copy and encouraged me to read it.  Vance wrote a series of consumer oriented books amongst other things pointing out how advertising misled us and changed our lives.  One of the scandals revealed was with "The $64,000 Question" when it was learned that the sponsors had manipulated the questions and contestants to maximize dramatic attention.

Eventually more television stations were developed catering to different identified niche audiences.  Sports was competitive as there were increasing number of sports which unlike most programs had a degree of unpredictability.  Nowadays many people have access to over 500 channels.  This fragmented the market with advertisers trying to pin down their most suitable targets and also dealing with channel surfing.  Shorter ads became more common and also more entertaining.   Buying different media was dependent on identifying targets and matching with individual media demographics.

One strategy was product placement.  Steven Spielberg helped finance movies with product placement and once famously, after being rejected by M and M turned Reese's Pieces into a major product.

The Super Bowl is one event that attracts a national audience and has become a showcase for commercials.  Although I am not a football fan I was impressed a few decades ago to buy a new Gillette razor and have stuck with the new versions ever since.

A new attention getter was email.  It was developed by accident as some one added a message to an invoice as I recall.  There is an urgency to checking email and people have to use it for relatively trivial matters and the process of going back and forth with messages can be very distracting.  It has become a sales tool, but has also spurred spamming which people have become very annoyed about and have developed blocking programs.  First eblast was sent on May of 1978.  I have actually sold eblasts and they did get results.

The Inter net became another screen that has evolved giving users more options and more distractions.  Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they developed the most efficient search engine frowned on advertising, but were losing money.  They realized that many requests for information were in fact  searching for buying opportunities.  They understood that ads slowed down search functions, but they developed improvements.  As they could measure clicks on any search they developed ways of offering flexible ad rates that helped advertisers find more realistic targets.  The whole inter-net is able to determine the interests of anyone using it.  This leads to pop up ads which in turn can be suppressed.  An alternative has developed called duckduckgo which claims no records will be kept on what a user clicks on.

Facebook was a social network not focusing on dating but encouraging family and friends connections.  They are really an information gathering machine that can offer advertisers cost effective targeting.  Instagram offered better resolution for photos and brought selfies into being.  Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion and have found it a wise investment.

Blogging was another activity spawned by the internet and was very popular at one time, but has become the domain of professionals.  Popular blogs can attract advertising revenue.

Canadians were proud that Research in Motion was the first to develop what is now known as a smart phone.  The Blackberry made it all the way to the White House.  It not only allowed emailing, but also access to the inter-net.  Making the inter-net mobile and with more and more options becoming common has induced more than a generation of users to develop bent necks.   Research in Motion has since been surpassed by larger companies like Apple, Google, Nokia.

Smart phones, computers and even televisions developed abilities to block ads presenting more challenges to advertisers.

Another example of resistance to commercials came from Netflix.  At first they were known for mailing DVDs at cheaper costs, but evolved into down-streaming tv. shows.  Instead of getting free tv with commercials you subscribe for tv programs and movies., commercial free.  A new habit, bingeing became common.

Tim Cook defending Apple used some words in common use,  "When an online service is free you're not the customer.  You are the product."

Times are constantly changing.  A book that brought this home was "The Content Trap"  Learn more.

I have spent most of my adult life somehow involved with advertising and selling stuff.  I have been told and believe that our economy for good or bad is based on selling "stuff."  People buy things they never thought of much before marketing research,  persuasion and pressure were applied.  Much is junk or unnecessary, but some  purchases really do add to enjoyment and survival and provide jobs.  We are all selling something and can learn to be better at selling worthy ideas.  Check out Daniel Pink with

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