Warning: Information Overload

I’m always encouraged by the number of marketing managers I meet who are as interested as I am in the sociology and psychology of advertising, especially how things have changed as advertising has moved online. Attention economics is an important subject now, and something we should all understand. In the past, the media gave us the chance to interrupt the prospect, but charged us a significant fee for doing so. Putting advertising in front of prospects is now free (or at least, we only pay when they take action), so the result is an explosion in advertising and the consumer’s attention is the scarce resource we have to fight for.

As advertisers, our success in doing this contributes further to the information overload from which everyone suffers.

When I was a magazine editor, nothing gave me a greater thrill than walking through an design office and seeing the magazine I edited on engineers’ desks. It was a little more dispiriting when I saw a pile in their wrappers, but I consoled myself that at least they were still on the desk. Today, I suspect, the pile ends up getting – perhaps reluctantly – pushed into the bin. It’s not that people don’t want to read magazines, it’s that few have the luxury of sufficient time. There’s far too much information out there, and we all have to choose carefully how we get it. Few people can afford to take a chance with a medium where the content is unknown.

As an example, if I turn on the radio, I might find something of interest. But might is not good enough. Instead, I’ve built up an extensive list of podcasts to which I subscribe, so I can put on one of those instead and be guaranteed something interesting.

There’s a fair list of websites where I’d like to read everything new, but I’d never get around to visiting them all unless I had a strategy. So I subscribe to their RSS feeds, and my RSS reader is my gateway to hundreds of new articles, all of which will be interesting.

As advertisers, we have to get to grips with what our customers are doing. It’s probably not what we think.

  • On the subject of podcasts, I’d recommend this week’s edition of my favourite political podcast, “Talking Politics”, on the subject of “The Nine Dots Winner”. This is as much of interest to marketers as those interested in politics, as it talks to the author of a prizewinning essay “Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Persuasion in the Attention Economy”. You can find out more about the essay here and listen to the podcast here.