search my site:




Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

This little site is designed to introduce him and his thoughts to the world. (Whether the world appreciates the intro is another matter.) If you'd like to chat, then you can guess what the boxes below are for.



This form does not yet contain any fields.




    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    « a letter to Phillip Crawley, publisher of the Globe and Mail, and John Stackhouse, editor-in-chief | Main | the result of this chicken-and-egg dilemma? »

    is attention a valuable resource?

    A couple of items today converged with some vague recent thoughts of my own.

    First, I'm not knowledgeable enough about business ins and outs to know how accurate this Michael Wolff article about Facebook is. But it does raise interesting questions about Facebook, both as a business, and as a social space for actual people. Wolff highlights some of the key challenges facing advertisers in this space; for being such a measurable and targeted environment, results ain't anywhere near what we'd like them to be. Users aren't clicking on ads that are apparently highly targeted and highly relevant. They've learned to tune them out.

    Given Facebook's need to grow out of its apparently dropping per-user value, Wolff sees this as a looming disaster for the entire digital paid advertising space. Now, I'm not so pessimistic, but as a marketer I sure would like to see Facebook figure out a model that's sustainable that doesn't simply entail various enthusiasts yelling, "But it's got a billion users!" (Or one that, as one of Wolff's commenters says, entails charging $9.99 a month to see an ad-less Facebook. Users would abandon it in droves.)

    So, the space that did the most to disrupt the old model may not be the juggernaut we thought. But then this Seth post about signal to noise ratio talks about email spam, and the fact that Twitter clickthroughs are dropping. People can't find the stuff they want in all the clutter, even in media that we can't make fun of simply because of their latest week on Wall Street.

    Attention is critical. Every medium wants it from users/viewers/readers. Every marketer's job depends on getting it.

    But the promises of new media to deliver attention don't seem to be panning out, even as the old media can't live up to their past track record at doing the same thing. Which leaves me with a question.

    Is attention a finite resource that needs to be as carefully managed as a forest, or fresh water? Can attention be used sustainably? Or must it be strip mined in an attempt to get what little is left as fast as possible?

    One of the most common complaints in this Game Of Weasels is that our audiences don't have time any more. In every brief in every agency in every city on the planet, we say that our target audiences don't read, they don't watch network TV, don't listen to the radio, don't spend enough time with their kids, don't have enough leisure time, and don't (somehow) spend enough time on their jobs. When people are this stressed, this pressed for time, this conscious of the next things to get to on their list, how they hell do they pay attention to you and your ad, wherever it is – Facebook, TV, radio, Google, whatever?

    More importantly, why would they pay attention?

    Today a consumer can't get away from us. We market to – no, at – her or him constantly. And yet, is that really the best way to reach them? Yelling at them constantly? When she or he has more control over media than ever before, and can and does turn us off or click away? 

    Howard Gossage wondered much the same thing half a century ago. He thought that, in the early 1960s, advertisers were already bombarding consumers with too many messages. In fact, he was pretty hard core about it:

    "I like outdoor advertising. I just think it has no right to be outdoors." 

    While that's extreme, I agree that at some point, as marketers, we have to think about the audience. We have to think about the impact of everything we do as an industry. We have to think about the fact that people can and are tuning us out.

    Is the attention of our audience – our friends, family, neighbours and fellow citizens – a precious resource? Yes. 

    Is it one we're using wisely? I'm not sure.

    Not that I have any answers. But agree or disagree with him, another of Gossage's aphorims is ALWAYS worth bearing in mind, for every marketer, every client, every agency weasel:

    "Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it's an ad."

    PrintView Printer Friendly Version

    EmailEmail Article to Friend

    Reader Comments

    There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.

    My response is on my own website »
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>