Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2014

The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should Care, and What You Can Do about It

by Thales S. Teixeira

Abstract

Attention is a necessary ingredient for effective advertising. The market for consumer attention (or "eyeballs") has become so competitive that attention can be regarded as a currency. The rising cost of this ingredient in the marketplace is causing marketers to waste money on costly attention sources or reduce their investment in promoting their brands. Instead, they should be thinking about how to "buy" cheaper attention and how to use it more effectively. Research in the emerging field of the Economics of Attention shows how this can be achieved. Here, I argue that, irrespective of the means to attain it, attention always comes at a price. I also show that the cost of attention has increased dramatically (seven- to nine-fold) in the last two decades. To counteract this trend I propose novel approaches to lower its cost or use attention more efficiently by adopting multitasker-tailored ads, Lean Advertising, and Viral Ad Symbiosis. To guide the choice of which approach to take, I propose the Attention-contingent Advertising Strategy, a framework to match the most effective approach to the quality of attention contingently available. As the value of attention rises, marketers need to become better managers of attention. This paper is intended to help them in this regard.

Keywords: Strategy; Advertising;

Citation:

Teixeira, Thales S. "The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should Care, and What You Can Do about It." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-055, January 2014.