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Dossier 01/07/2015

Advertising: attention under pressure

Does advertising take up too much of our attention? All those posters, banners, pop-ups and videos... not to mention the branded products skilfully inserted into TV series... can only suggest an answer in the affirmative. The omnipresence of advertising creates the uncomfortable impression that we are being bullied by the demands on our attention.

An impression that is in no way surprising when we remember the observation made by Patrick Le Lay, then Chairman-CEO of premier French TV channel TF1, when explaining that his job was to make the viewer's brain more receptive and attentive to advertisements: "What we sell to Coca-Cola is available human brain time". He did go on to add that nothing is harder to obtain, and constant innovation is required to do so. The headlong rush by advertisers in search of new advertising space knows virtually no limits. Façades of buildings are becoming huge animated billboards, public screens will soon react to the comings and goings of passers-by and even interact with them, in short, any vacant space is a potential target for the advertisers! And the advent of the internet has exponentially increased the possibilities. So has advertising pressure increased? Are we more exposed today than before?

5,000 or 350 ads a day?

Can we quantify our current exposure to advertising? With difficulty. Estimates vary depending on the method of calculation and the definition of advertising used. The figure of 5,000 messages received per person per day (up from 2,000 thirty years ago) is frequently trotted out by the media. Generally attributed to US consultancy Yankelovich, the true origin of this statistic remains a mystery. It must be said that few studies are dedicated to this question, despite its importance.

But in 2014 the American Media Dynamics institute published some new estimates. The results were significantly lower. According to their study, we are in fact exposed to an average of 362 messages a day, against 296 in 1985 and 340 in 1945. The study is particularly interesting because it shows that although time spent on media consumption has indeed increased, the number of advertisements has not risen dramatically. It also underlines the fact that these visual solicitations do not monopolise consumers' attention. Of the 362 advertisements "seen", only 153 are noticed, with 86 attracting more sustained attention from the consumer, and 12 at most are retained, corresponding, according to the study, to a certain level of engagement.

A difficult assessment

But the survey only covered traditional media (TV, radio and press) and their online incarnations. Non-media advertising was excluded, leaving out new internet formats. Hence the discrepancy between the two estimates. Media Dynamics confirmed that if brands and logos had been factored in, figures of several thousand daily messages might have been reached. So while the increase in advertising pressure remains unproven, the impression of being bombarded is also linked to our media consumption, which is both more diverse and more dense. According to a survey by KR Médias, 71% of 13 to 24 year-old web-users surf while listening to the radio in the evening, and 40% of 25-34s simultaneously use the internet and watch TV.

Assessing advertising exposure is even more complicated now we have the internet. On the web, for instance, there is a plethora of ways to measure the effectiveness of advertising messages (as well as traditional audience measures, numbers of clicks and purchases can be counted), but they are not always legible. It is hard to have an idea of overall advertising exposure if mobile-based indicators cannot be compared with those for other medias. One must also be sure to factor in the multiplicity of formats and the new advertising arenas such as social media. Advertisers hope to use these new avenues to create attention effects that traditional advertising no longer achieves. In addition to increasing the number of banners, pop-ups and other inserts, advertising has taken hold of video and social networks, where sponsored links are proliferating, the whole wrapped up in multiplatform cross-media strategies. Until these new resources are exhausted, like the classic ads that preceded them...

Advertising spending as benchmark?

Changes in advertiser spending might also be able to confirm or disprove the increase in advertising pressure. So? According to the AACC association of communication professionals, advertising spending in France increased by 8 billion Euros between 1995 and 2010. But since 2004, investment has stabilised at around 30 billion Euros a year. While digital seems not to have pushed budgets to the extreme, it is carving out an ever increasing share of spending: at 2.9 billion Euros in 2014, digital represents 9% of advertisers' communication spending. However, new players who usually have little use for advertising are increasing their spending. Jean-Samuel Beuscart and Kevin Mellet have shown that museums more than tripled their advertising investment in the ten years from 1999 to 2009. Aware that it is easier to set up a cultural entity than generate an audience in the context of an ever more abundant cultural offer, these institutions are entering the competition for our attention.

Since an evaluation that includes digital and financial factors as well as the actors is difficult to deliver, it remains a challenge to quantify advertising pressure.


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