Every channel has its own attention limitation so Yahoo’s Zoe Cocker says that the best way to capture attention and leverage the limitless potential of digital is to blur the lines between physical, digital and omnichannel.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on the New Attention Economy in Australia. Read more

You’ve probably heard of Simon Sinek’s bestselling book Start with Why. In it, he explains how communicating your purpose – the “why” – can be an extremely powerful motivator in life and in business.

In marketing, we often spend a lot of time thinking about the “who, what and when”. It’s one reason why cookies have held the spotlight for several years now. They’re great at providing the background information around digital interactions with our businesses.

But they don’t tell us why people are engaging with our businesses, products and advertisements. So it’s little surprise that attention has become the hottest new metric on the block.

In its simplest terms, attention is the human capacity to engage with things in our environment that demand mental focus. But in a marketing sense, it's our audience's time and focus spent interacting with our content.

If we can measure where people are devoting their attention, then we can start to get to grips with why they’re choosing to consume certain pieces of content. Here are a few key ways marketers can lean into immersive technology to grab and hold people’s attention.

The importance of being present

In order to stay relevant today, you need to have a laser focus on both format and context.

A study conducted by Dentsu found that format plays a key role in the attention economy (The Attention Economy, Unlocking the currency of attention – Dentsu, Lumen Research, TVision and Amplified Intelligence 2022). The results showed more is more when it comes to advertising, with both attention and sales uplift increasing when more pixels of an ad were in view.

The Media Rating Council has come to similar conclusions. It deems a video ad as more viewable if at least 50% of pixels are in view for at least two seconds (Media Rating Council Viewable Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines prepared in collaboration with IAB Emerging Innovations Task Force 2014).

A study conducted by Yahoo, OMD and Amplified Intelligence revealed a similar finding. When your ad covers 80% of the screen, attention increases (Attention in Context Research – Yahoo, OMG and Amplified Intelligence research 2022).

Further research shows just how important ads shown in the right context can be. Integral Ad Science looked into the effectiveness of contextual ads in driving memorability, compared with other formats. The results showed that viewers were 23% more likely to remember the key message of an ad when it aligns with the content of the site that is hosting it (The Context Effect: A biometric study on contextual advertising – Integral Ad Science 2021).

The same study also found that ads triggering an emotional response were 40% more memorable when they were delivered in relevant content. So advertisers, take note: audiences are more responsive to creative content that resonates with them.

Once you’ve achieved this goal, the next step is to combine this resonant content with needle-moving immersive technology.

Marketing to a goldfish with content and creativity

It seems to be accepted wisdom that today’s generation of consumers has the attention span of a small insect, which is why we’ve been instructed for years to limit our ad creative to six seconds to “stay interesting”.

This approach drives me crazy. What we’re basically saying is “I'm not relevant enough”, so what I need to do is say less in order to remain relevant. In reality, it's context and creativity that drives attention, not limited powers of concentration.

But while ads don’t need to be ultra short to gain attention, there is a sweet spot. Yahoo’s research showed that when comparing a 15-second ad to a 30-second ad, 15-second video ads delivered 2.8 times more active attention than 30-second ads (Attention in Context Research – Yahoo, OMG and Amplified Intelligence, 2022).

So if we move past these assumptions around people’s ability to focus, there is an incredible opportunity in front of us.

One brand to recently seize upon this was Tourism Australia. In 2020, when no one could travel, it released a series of immersive audio videos which transported viewers from around the world into the heart of some of Australia’s most breathtaking destinations.

Harnessing innovative 8D audio technology, the videos created a sensory journey, immersing their audience in the unique sights, sounds and textures through a three-dimensional effect.

As for how they got there, the marketing team initially asked themselves the question: If this campaign was a person, what would it look and sound like? Having begun with this insight, they then incorporated 3D visuals, sound and gamification, all of which lifted the campaign above the mainstream.

In the end, what could have been a standard tourism ad turned out to be a highly innovative experience and resulted in millions of views across all six videos.

In this new attention economy, brands should always look to push innovation. For marketers, this is only going to happen if we become braver and look at different ways of telling our stories.

Pushing attention limits with omnichannel

We have the opportunity today to leverage digital in a limitless capacity. Yet some are still drawing a line in the sand and refusing to move past it. To really capture customer attention, you need to have a digital, physical and omnichannel approach.

The channels we utilise today all have their own limitations. Physical stores have restrictions on proximity and online stores have limitations around trying on and connecting with products in a tangible fashion.

The best way to capture attention now is to blur the lines between digital, physical and omnichannel.

Look, for example, at immersive shopping, augmented reality or hand tracking. All these emerging technologies have created a capability where people can enjoy shopping experiences in the physical or online realms.

Toy store BIG W had a brilliantly innovative way of merging channels to enhance the online and offline experience. In April of this year, the retailer's “Toy Mania” campaign used augmented reality to allow parents to see what play equipment from its online exclusive range would look like in their backyard.

Leveraging Yahoo's suite of adtech solutions and omnichannel capabilities, the campaign let Australians shop for big ticket items via an immersive “try before you buy” platform.

Given digital marketing so often exists in 2D, the marketing insight behind this campaign revolved around bringing products to life as they would be in the home.

Augmented reality provided the opportunity for people to interact with products, while customising them to their tastes. This in turn provided a highly interactive experience that was not only enjoyable but added value to the customer experience.

Big W didn’t stop at using this AR campaign as an advertising tool either. The company also implemented it across its e-commerce website and above-the-line initiatives, adding incremental value right across the business.

BIG W is not the only one making headway either, which is why we’re now seeing a real increase in demand from marketers for immersive omnichannel solutions.

A multi-channel approach can begin to break down the barriers, such as proximity, that affect how we shop. This allows marketers to measure the entire customer experience, rather than just taking a snapshot from an angle that might not tell the full story.

A head above the rest

I believe there is a “protect and preserve” mindset in the industry at the moment in Australia. Considering what we’ve been through in recent years, that’s fair enough.

Just look at the world around us. We’ve had one of the world's deadliest pandemics, we’re experiencing a war between two major countries and to top it off, there’s the spectre of an upcoming recession. So I can understand why people don’t have the confidence to try new things.

However, the emerging technologies we have at our disposal are genuinely proving their worth. Innovative experiences connected across multiple channels are not only surprising and delighting audiences but making them brand custodians too.

At the end of the day, it’s about creating tech-led campaigns that really capture an audience’s attention. So let’s start thinking about why people are engaging with us as a first step. If we can do this, we’ll be in a perfect spot to grab even more of their attention.