25 November 2022

The battle for attention bandwidth

Kat-Jackson-L
Kat-Jackson-L
Kat Jackson
Head of Client Services

Born of frustration: antagonistic stunts and the battle for attention bandwidth

Born of frustration: antagonistic stunts and the battle for attention bandwidth

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

What do Joe Lycett, Just Stop Oil, and Extinction Rebellion all have in common?
Whether throwing soup at multi-million pound masterworks or shredding a pile of cash – these power stunts work because your active discomfort and emotional response is the whole point. They are purposefully antagonistic to attract attention. The reason for that drive is that nothing else seems to be working when it comes to attracting consideration of some long standing and often egregious issues.

This piece from the always worth a read Mark Ritson puts it all perfectly – from a more commercial standpoint.

Your attention has value and weight. The ads featured in this piece, from Brewdog and Belvedere (right), are high in sharability and entertainment, low in (traditionally assessed) brand sticking power. But that’s the point – creating a flash-in-the-pan, must-see moment. These purpose-power stunts are similar. Your attention is the point, your emotional reaction – whether irritated, incandescent, intrigued or otherwise – the fuel, elevating their effectiveness.
This is word of mouth at its most provocative. It goes beyond brave, because to do it effectively, it sets aside the issue of parent brand perception – it challenges you, encourages you, to get actively angry with them.
That act alone exposes any hypocrisy behind ignoring the issues they literally demand your attention to consider.
Right or wrong – and the debate on where these fall will rage for some time – there will be inevitably be copycats now the furrow has been ploughed. Each one serving, by a process of slow attrition, to dilute the original point and emotional heft. Each subsequent outrage stunt, unless it ups the ante in some way, will just act as a pale imitation if those who went before. This is the reality of an attention-focused economy – attention is only held in the same way, on the same object, for so long. Outrage has a short shelf life.
Will this mean the dawn of increasingly extreme campaigns? The end of craft? A long term (as Ritson hints) shift away from strategy and creativity in a relentless land grab for eyeballs? It will depend on the core campaign objective. Long term, the seesaw effect will kick in – the more people rush for attention, the more appreciation for strategic craft and long term brand building will grow once again in contrast. Variety is the spice of creative connection.
But the battle for attention – in a world where one of our clients has recently defined their competitors not as other ad agencies but instead entertainment giants like Netflix – is set to define and frame comms strategy for some time.
All the way from advertising to PR – a medium which is usually about building longer term connections and ongoing dialogue.
B2b, b2c or anywhere in between, impact comms is likely to be the defining trait of the next year. Assessing and harnessing that impact, or simply comprehending its effects, should be something which commands all of our attention.
It is well known how hard it is in the banking sector to get people to switch accounts – even after experiences of poor service or frustrations with a provider, and with financial incentives to switch, tendency to switch remains low (source).
For innovative providers to throttle back their engagements with customers doesn’t only risk suggestions that they, too, may be in trouble. It also removes the ongoing dialogue about what they are doing so well, and why that matters.
The coming months will be hard on wallets – business or personal. Tough decisions are already being made. But for those in competitive space where attention is everything – whether that is as a fintech SME struggling to be seen above a sea of competitors, or a neobank agitator driving the market onward, one of the most dangerous decisions on the table could prove to be how their all important communications channels continue on, and in what capacity.
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