Ads and Attention
Brands will spend $650 billion in 2021 (source: Statista) across all media channels vying for our attention. That comes to just under $100 for every one of the 7 billion people in the world. India’s advertising industry is about Rs 62,500 crore in 2021 (source: Dentsu Digital Report), or about $8.2 billion. This comes to almost Rs 500 for every Indian.
None of that money comes to us as consumers. It goes to intermediaries – publishers, media platforms, search engines, agencies, and the like. The result is an explosion of ads that we see everywhere – everywhere our attention is, the ads are there. Ad spends can grow, but our attention is finite – we cannot create more time in a day. And in a world with increasing wealth and new brands rising to challenge the old, our attention becomes even more valuable. The result: more ads, more spends. This flywheel accounts for the huge valuations of digital intermediaries and destinations like Google and Facebook – every action of ours is tracked, packaged and sold. Profiles, preferences and privacy are juxtaposed in the search for that perfect ad which will grab our attention and make us act. Just as we are buyers, we are also being sold – our attention auctioned to the highest bidder every digital moment.
Ads envelope us wherever we go. Outdoor hoardings, ad breaks on TV, wrappers on newspapers that take up the first few pages, ads on search engines (nicely disguised to look like content), pop-ups on free content portals, ads in our online feeds and streams – they stalk us everywhere. The more free content we desire, the more we pay – every action (or inaction) being recorded for eternity, and then shared and matched to create a digital twin in the quest of the right message at the right moment on the right channel. We are the products in the Attention Economy and there is no shortage of buyers willing to pay for fragments of our time.
As I have been writing about microns, loyalty and the inbox, I also began to think about attention. Is there a way to monetise our attention? What if brands could reward us for our time and actions? In the non-digital world, this was impossible to do because brands could not identify each of us uniquely. But in a digital world where every click and tap of ours can be tracked, can we become recipients of the huge monies being spent by brands in reaching us?