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Attention: There’s an Invisible Media Gorilla in The Room

  • Date:

    08 April 2019

Attention: There’s an Invisible Media Gorilla in The Room

Did you see the gorilla?

Remember, the gorilla that walks through the scene of basketball players passing a ball in the famous experiment on attention by the psychologist Daniel Simmons. Yes, that one, the one you never saw the first time you took the test and saw the video. This now well-known experiment revealed something quite fascinating in how we thought about the concept of attention, and the difference between what we look at and what we really see. The ‘invisible gorilla’ drew our collective attention to the “illusion of attention” – the mistaken belief that we take in everything from the world around us, and if we see something important or unexpected it will automatically grab our attention.

This study perhaps told us more about advertising than many of the books, blogs and gurus have since. The gorilla wasn’t just a prop in an experiment, it has also inadvertently become a metaphor for advertising placements and the common debates of today. I believe we can use this gorilla to give us some answers to our questions and correct some of our own illusions.

The first illusion: An impression/impact is a set of eyeballs that not only sees but notices your ad

As the work from Daniel Simmons proves, we can all too often assume we’re getting attention, when we are in fact not. Technology and research have allowed us to understand that not every media placement that is bought is seen, and this is the truth across every media channel, whether it be by viewers walking out of the room, or looking out of the window when the pre-roll starts, Adbots scrolling away, or readers just not reading the entire magazine from cover to cover. This is a reality of advertising where there’s an unpredictable element determined by human behaviour.  

So, we must refrain from writing off anything that can’t be completely tracked, instantly measured or even media that will have some degree of ad avoidance. The impact of this unknown needs to be considered specifically to that particular media buy and it needs to be reflected in the cost of buying that particular media, summing the probability of ad avoidance, multiplied with the probability of desired action as a result of being seen. As planners and buyers, we need to know the pitfalls, and seek out the best ‘most likely to grab attention’ formats within that media environment, and then agree a price that is likely to give an effective return for the investment.

By being honest with the flaws of all media and our methods of measurement, we can move on to think more closely about what the ingredients are of going beyond just seeing, and to becoming noticed.