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Attentiveness Seems to Have Grown another Head
By Erwin Ephron

The brain is too much fun to be pirated by apologists for failed advertising and that's what they're trying to do.

Don't know about yours, but my brain is good company.

"Orion, The Big Dipper and Andromeda could be joined in the heavens by ads. . ." Before I can finish reading the sentence my brain does the Hubble with a crackling voice, "Copy Houston. We have Pringles."

My point is the brain is too much fun to be pirated by apologists for failed advertising and that's what they're trying to do.

In the current issue of the Media Research Club of Chicago Review (Brain says "That's on the left-bank of Lake Michigan") there's a point-of-view on how to handle inattentive TV viewers in media planning. It's an interesting piece. It argues for keeping inattentive viewers on the credit side of the ledger (Brain says "That's the side near the window").

It's similar to some recent agency work claiming that in addition to attentive attention there is inattentive attention. (Brain says "Huh?")

The Lizard Brain

This research says we don't have to pay attention for advertising to work because we have a second brain. An instinctive cognitive system that's always on, noting, categorizing, assessing, without our conscious awareness. (Brain frowns, "That's the Lizard Brain. We don't talk.")

But even if there is a second, Lizard Brain in there, is that relevant to media planning? With TV, for example, most dis-engagement is not the brain no longer attending; it's the viewer no longer viewing. And the idea that we should continue to pay for people not viewing as part of the audience doesn't seem reasonable. This is not about how the brain works. It's about what the word audience means.

We View With Our Eyes

In the 2002 monograph, "Making Better Media Decisions", the ARF defined three levels of viewing in television. Vehicle Exposure, Advertising Exposure and Advertising Attentiveness.

Vehicle Exposure is a count of the people with their eyes on the screen carrying the program. Advertising Exposure is a count of people with their eyes on the screen when the advertising appears. Advertising Attentiveness is the degree to which people with their eyes on the screen when the advertising appears are focused on it. So according to ARF, eyes on the screen is part of the definition of viewing and if you think about it, how can viewing be anything less?

When we properly define viewing it reframes the argument. The big reason for discounting a TV audience is we don't measure viewing.

Our Measurement Is Blind

The Nielsen TV measurement doesn't require eyes-on. The people meter counts all people as viewing who pushed a button when they began to view. Most of them continue to be counted as viewers whether they happen to be talking, reading, eating, out-of-the-room for a moment or doing something else as commercials appear.

Because the Nielsen audience counts do not require eyes-on, they clearly inflate viewing. It is the difference between what Nielsen reports and our estimates of viewing that leads smart agencies to adjust down of TV audiences. One of my clients, a big user of cable, assumes less than 70% of the reported audience sees the commercial. That adjustment has nothing to do with how the brain works.

Why Adjust?

The biggest changes in TV over recent years are many more channels, many more repeated programs, and many more commercials. The combination results in many more people not watching the set when commercials appear.

Then there is another large group using the remote to find something else to view. In the 1980's Nielsen studied viewer churn for the TV Networks. At that time there were more than 3 million households in motion during the average minute of prime time. Today I would put the number at easily three times that count. These surfers are also among the people Nielsen includes as program or commercial viewers.

The Psychic Brain

Before we use unconscious brain function to qualify people as being attentive to our advertising, we first need to reduce audience to people likely to see our advertising. Otherwise that second brain has to process commercials it hasn't seen.

To do that the brain must be more than complex. It has to be psychic.

Erwin Ephron is an authority on advertising and the father of "recency planning." His fresh ideas about how ads work today have changed the way campaigns are planned throughout the world. Erwin

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