Collective Addictions: Views vs. Attention.


Scrolling your newsfeed has become a ritual, performed multiple times day and night. In fact, the average Australian checks their phone 30 times per day. Let me highlight – that’s average. Younger Australians check their phones between 56 and 200 times a day.

In a content cluttered era, it is our collective addiction to crowdsourced self-esteem and instant entertainment that is changing the basic economics of our day-to-day lives. In fact, it’s changing so profoundly that the majority of advertisers simply aren’t keeping up. While most marketers are busy creating content about product features, they’re failing to understand what it is audiences want to pay attention to. Surprisingly, it’s brands like Trump, Kim Kardashian West, Meat and Livestock Australia, KitchenAid and LQD Skin Care who are taking advantage of this.

Mark Manson describes this phenomenon perfectly in his article about the attention economy. “The new scarcity in the internet age is attention,” he says. “There is a surplus of information…more information flowing through our society than any of us could ever hope to process or understand; the new bottleneck on our economy is attention.”

Attention is a scarce and increasingly expensive resource that begs to be well managed and yet, there is no consistent metric that truly defines it. To break it down, attention has two dimensions; duration and intensity. Duration refers to quantity. It is easily measured through participant feedback (e.g. number of likes, clicks or video plays). Intensity however, is about the quality of attention, and is far more difficult to evaluate.

Some argue the quality of attention doesn’t matter. I disagree. Successful messages will trigger active attention (vs passive attention) that will in turn, prompt a response. The potential to measure the quality of attention then, opens the door to an incredible opportunity for media owners and buyers alike.

Attention Quality Evaluation (AQE) is an emerging practice that is likely to one day involve a combination of mobile intersection and eye scanning technologies. A number of invasive tracking techniques are currently available, from Functional Imaging solutions (like an MRI or PET scan) to something called ‘electroencephalogram’ (you might know it as an EEG). Basically, these techniques detect changes in the human brain and while commonly used in the medical arena, aren’t particularly practical for our needs.

Positively, there are also two non-invasive, quantifiable methods available to track attention in a scalable way. Both are very much in their infancy, but give us some insight into the future of AQE.


This spy-like technology tracks your gaze, or eye movement to evaluate the quality of your attention. An infra-red source sends a light towards your eyes, and your eyes reflect it. The position of that reflection can be used to pin point the direction of your gaze. Currently, video detection of pupil reflection is the most commonly used technique in research and advertising.

Mouse or Thumb Tracking

Not quite as sci-fi cool, Mouse or Thumb Tracking is a far simpler way of measuring quality of attention. Using a client-side language like JavaScript, it allows advertisers to pin point and follow the mouse (or cursor) activity of its audiences while an internet browser is open.

Okay so right now our AQE tools are pretty basic, but soon our connected devices will look back at us. They will read emotional expression and understand our instant response to certain messages. You’ve lived through the technological advances of the last eight years – believe it!

The best thing you can do now to prepare yourself for then, is to stay informed and keep learning. That’s why Alchemy One is working with publishers and platforms to develop scalable and reliable metrics that indicate attention ‘spent’. As a media agency, we understand that we may not sell attention, but we do sell access to an audience…and understanding that audience is key to the success of the messages our clients transmit.

I may check my phone for likes (just like everyone else), but ATTENTION is my new addiction.