“Low Attention” Branding


It makes sense that if we have a viewer’s attention and present him or her with a compelling ad, we stand a chance of improving the perception of our brand. But what about those times when we don’t have the viewer’s attention, and he doesn’t even recall seeing the ad? This topic is discussed in Brand Immortality, and research is providing some interesting insights.

The idea that consumers can be swayed without their conscious knowledge isn’t new – subliminal cues were a key premise of Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders” decades ago, and here at Neuromarketing we are constantly seeing examples of how our conscious mind can be bypassed by external stimuli. But the idea of “low involvement processing” or “low attention processing” gained ground about ten years ago when Dr. Roberth Heath wrote an article which appeared in Admap. He summed up the prevailing belief about ad effectiveness:

Traditional theories of how advertising works were based on the hypothesis that it must be processed cognitively by consumers to be effective – in other words, it must capture your attention and interest, and make you ‘think’ about and remember the ad and the message within it. Advertising that does not ‘cut through’ in this way is deemed to be largely wasted.

Heath then proposed that we in fact DO process ads without conscious awareness, that sensory associations are particularly strong, and that when we make a purchase decision these stored brand associations can indeed influence us.

Research using televison commercials supports this theory. Pringle and Field describe a series of experiments conducted by Ipsos which exposed subjects to commercials while they were supposedly reviewing a new TV drama. Afterwards, the subjects were tested for recall of the ads and also for any shift in brand perception vs. a previous value. This is a truly massive set of data – the experments involved 97,000 subjects, 512 commercials, and 47 different companies.

The results showed an average brand shift of 7.3% for those subjects who paid attention to the ad and could describe it (high attention processors). More interestingly, though, even those subjects who paid little or no attention to the ads saw a positive brand shift. “low attention processors” who could recall the ad only when it was described by the researchers saw a 2.7% shift, and even those “ultra-low attention processors” who couldn’t recall the ad at all saw a 1.2% lift. Not stunning, perhaps, but statistically significant and really not bad for a single “unconscious” exposure.

In short, the data shows that it’s better to have your ads noticed and consciously processed by your potential customers. But even when your ads aren’t consciously noticed, your branding message is still having an impact.

  1. Steve Genco says

    What’s also interesting in this huge study is that only 7.3% of people who paid attention to the ads had a positive brand effect. Do companies spending billions on advertising know they are only reaching 1 in 14 people who actually pay attention to their ads?

    This is like another huge study I saw by Tellis (in a great book, Effective Advertising) that said a 1% change in advertising budget produced, on average, a 0.1% change in sales. In contrast, lowering the price 1% produced a 1.6% increase in sales. So a dollar spent on advertising was worth about 1/16 of a dollar spent on price reduction.

    That’s average, of course, but maybe advertisers believe, like the parents in Lake Woebegone, that all their children are above average.

  2. Pooky Amsterdam says

    Great Post- & I am thrilled to see the mention of Vance Packard. He also pointed out that people were too scared during the “Kraft Mystery Hour” to remember the commercials, and subsequent research showed people were too entertained watching “I Love Lucy” to recall the product- Solution? The commercials had to be more entertaining than the program so people would remember what to buy.
    We could look at the mediocratizing of traditional content to train us to be better consumers. The social media shift where we consume what we want and at our pace has broken that mold. So has the empowerment of User Generated Content. Interesting times indeed. I am favoring Second Life to develop branded communities with real time interactive audiences. I am even channeling Arthur Godfrey. Stay tuned…

  3. Promotional Products says

    Very interesting post, I have not heard of this before. It seems like this would benefit smaller business that don’t have much market share or recognition. Sometimes understanding these different methods and strategies can make a smaller brand succeed against major competitors.

  4. Menon says

    thought i am terribly late to get on to this article, my question is would this be similar to various concepts related to attention like priming, attention blink, unprocessed information etc
    would be keen to your views. thanks and good luck

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