March 24, 2020

Author and Media Professor Karen Nelson-Field Presented New Findings and Insights from Her Latest Book “The Attention Economy and How Media Works”

By Michael Diamond and Julie DeVito

Karen Nelson-Field, professor of media innovation at Adelaide University in Australia, was scheduled to be in New York to address the students and faculty of the Integrated Marketing and Communications department in the Division of Programs in Business right after spring break. Her work is consistently challenging and important, at the nexus of the technology of media and the behavior of media consumers.  Her research draws upon innovative methodologies and provides insights that are closely followed by industry leaders. For example, her work on “likes” and fan loyalty, published in 2012, demonstrated how limited the relationship was between someone who “liked” a brand on Facebook, and how much that person subsequently interacted with the brand. The work was published just three months before Facebook’s IPO, and understandably caused quite a stir in the marketing and investment community. Given both the quality and the provocative nature of her work, the department was looking forward to hosting Nelson-Field, in person, for a conversation about her new book, The Attention Economy and How Media Works.

However, with a global constraint on travel, NYU moving to remote instruction the week before spring break, and the staff transitioning to work-from-home, the talk was rapidly re-organized into an online presentation and discussion. Joining us from Adelaide at 2.00 a.m. local time, professor Nelson-Field presented a lively and engaging review of her most recent work.  Her book provides marketers with a deeper understanding of how we pay attention, and what we pay attention to, with implications for advertising.

Known already for her rigorous research approaches, which now include special permission-based apps tracking the research participants’ social media applications, professor Nelson-Field’s goal is “to innovate and to start to investigate how technology can scale research and bring research questions into passive collection and become a lot more forward-thinking.”

Marketers have increasingly put pressure on media platforms around the way advertising ‘impressions’ are measured and traded, and professor Nelson-Field argued in her presentation that a more accurate measure of human attention is poised to become a fairer measure of quality impressions. Her company, Amplified Intelligence, has built a system to measure the impact of campaigns on attention and provide a platform for advertisers to test concepts. Research participants have a respondent log built into the dedicated research app which, with permission, turns on the forward-facing camera of their smartphone when ads appear, and captures facial reactions at the sub-second level. The app also collects information including how fast the participant is scrolling, whether the sound is on or off, the orientation of the phone, whether the content being viewed is in full screen, how and when the participant interacted with the content, etc. Data has now been collected in six countries across 15 different on-line video or social media platforms, with a total of 120,000 test ad views to date.

Nelson-Field left the audience with six key takeaways.

●      Attention in the age of distraction is not the focused version that marketers idealize: With a finite mental capacity, we have to filter out lots of ‘inputs’ and much of our time is spent in the subconscious, where top-down triggers (e.g., personal relevance) and bottom-up triggers (e.g., visual cues) momentarily jumpstart our attention.

●      If you can’t see the ad, guidance triggers won’t help: Ad visibility is vital, with attention and ultimately brand-choice driven both by an ad’s ‘coverage’ (i.e., the percent of the screen the ad covers) and its ‘pixels’ (i.e., the percent of the ad that is on the screen). 

●      ‘Unexpectedness’ triggers attention: Unexpected elements in advertising, typically bottom-up triggers like emotion and arousal, drive attention as they break the brain’s ‘prediction.’

●      Attention and brand choice are cousins (not siblings):  Much advertising is either not persuasive or fails to make the link to the brand being marketed.  Advertising where peak attention and peak branding is aligned drives the greatest brand-choice and ultimately sales.

●      Some good news: there IS value in low attention: When we move from a pre-attentive state to low-attention, this shift matters -- “even when we don’t notice, we notice.”

●      None of this matters if the impression is not human: With major concerns about ad fraud and “bots” suggesting many ads are either not actually seen, or not seen by humans, we need new measures or a new currency for advertising, like “Quality CPMs.”

View the full presentation to the Integrated Marketing and Communications community:

Professor Karen Nelson-Field has a PhD in media science and is considered a global authority in media strategy. Her work has been noted in prestigious publications and she works with some of the world’s largest advertisers. A regular speaker on the major international circuits, her current work focuses on the removal of human bias from research design using AI.


For more information on her work

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