The Attention Economy from a Performance Marketer Perspective

Are you aware of what you are paying by reading this article?

Most people realize during the day when they pay for something, a coffee, an uber, using a credit card or cash, but they don’t realize when they are using another very scarce resource, one that all of us have, but in limited quantity: our Attention.

Scientists and engineers have estimated our brain capacity to process information at 120 bits per second. In order to listen to a person speak you have to pay attention, and it consumes approximately 60 bits per second of your brain capacity.

It also explains why we can barely understand two people talking at the same time.

Attention is something we pay or, in some languages, we lend, in Spanish: “prestar atención”.

It is the most essential mental resource for any organism. It determines which aspects of the environment we deal with, making the correct choice about what gets passed through to our conscious awareness.

This process consumes our energy. Our brain is the organ of our body that consumes the most, accounting for over 20% of our total energy consumption. Millions of neurons are constantly monitoring the environment to select the most important things for us to focus on.

This is why most of the irrelevant things of our daily lives doesn’t register, or why, when you’ve been driving on the freeway for several hours, you don’t remember much of the scenery that you drove by. Your attentional system “protects” you from registering it because it isn’t deemed important.

The attentional filter is one of evolution’s greatest achievements. It protects us from wasting this scarce resource and depleting our energy reserves.

When our ancestors left the cover of the trees to seek new sources of food, they also opened up a vast range of new possibilities for nourishment and exposed themselves to a wide range of new predators.

Being alert and vigilant to threatening sounds and visual cues is what allowed them to survive; this meant allowing an increasing amount of information through the attentional filter.

We, as humans are by biological measures, the most successful species our planet has seen. We have managed to survive in nearly every climate our planet has offered (so far), and the rate of our population expansion exceeds that of any other known organism.

Our success owes in large part to the ability of our brains to flexibly handle information. But our brains evolved in a much simpler world with far less information coming at us. Today, our attentional filters easily become overwhelmed.

We were not prepared for the environment that the digitalization of the world brought to our lives.

Through our screens and Internet browsing, we expose ourselves to a totally new type of stimulus.

To make things worse, our attention now is being measured as a real commodity. We have thousands of companies, brands and now even governments competing to grab a piece of it.

Millions are being spend on techn and algorithms that help businesses disrupt our attention in a more effective way.

The first ad banner appeared on the Internet in 1994. It was from the American teleoperator AT & T, who paid $ 30,000 to The Wired magazine, to put it on its website for three months.

Does it capture your attention?
The first banner ad

This banner was nothing special, except that it was the first.

What is amazing in terms of attention, is that this banner had a CTR of 44%, which means that out of every 100 people who saw the ad on the Wired website, 44 clicked on it.

To put this on perspective, the averages that we have today in banners of similar format is 0.06% of CTR.

This exorbitant difference comes in part from the saturation of ads in digital media, that is, it is something “normal”, it does not “call our attention”.

The price of attention is something that should matter to us, not only as marketers, but as product owners. Also, we should care as people.

An excess of exposure to media that bombard us with stimuli and messages to capture our attention, is something that exhausts us, makes us unhappy and reduces our cognitive capacity (it makes us donkeys) (It takes away our freedom).

It is our responsibility and it is in our control to limit our exposure to these media. The most successful people on the planet have started implementing filters for themselves and for their kids because they realize how valuable it is.

  • Be aware that we are a business objective
  • Spend less time in shopping centers and more time in nature
  • Watch less television and don’t listen much to radio
  • Consume content in a conscious and directed way, especially online
  • Use advertising blockers such as AdBlocker or premium Youtube accounts that eliminate ads

As marketers and companies, we have to be very aware of the price of attention.

Forget traditional media, such as newspapers, television, radio, etc. where the figures are manipulated and charged according to totally subjective systems, attention in digital media is much more quantifiable.

Digital media: news sites, Facebook, Google … charge advertising space at a CPM rate cost per thousand impressions for displaying an ad or message.

The cost per thousand impressions is auctioned, this is a fundamental element that must be understood to realize why performance marketing will be the only model that works financially in the future.

If I offer $3 for a thousand impressions of my ad I have to make sure, first of all, that my message will be seen. If I can not get the attention of a minimum number of people, money will not help.

How do I get the attention and at least my message is seen? Different marketing techniques are used to achieve this, most of them aimed at “breaking” normality or interrupting us:

  • A fundraiser for an NGO interrupts us by asking us if we have a few seconds
  • A letter or pamphlet interrupts us on the way home because we have learned to empty a full mailbox
  • An unread email captures our attention compared to the other messages read
  • A commercial that calls us on the telephone interrupts what we are doing
  • An ad that appears below the text of the article that we are reading in a blog interrupts our reading process for a moment

The language, location, design, and form of the message or ad will be decisive elements to interrupt or not interrupt our mental process and capture an instant of our attention.

When learning and experimenting with these techniques as a marketer, be aware of the price people are paying to see your message and use their attention in a conscious way.

Have you by now realized how much you paid to read this article? What are your ways of grabbing the attention of your potential customers?



  1. plinio April 2, 2020
  2. Jose October 19, 2020
    • Todor October 26, 2020
  3. Miguel Ángel December 21, 2020
    • Todor December 22, 2020

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