Attention to dollars, and other exchanges

I’ve been thinking a lot about the attention economy lately, so Brad’s excellent post about The Three Constituencies got me thinking about how attention figures into this triad of consumers, publishers, and advertisers.(What he calls subscribers I’ll broaden to “consumers,” since you often receive media from publishers whom you don’t really subscribe to. Watching TV, for example.)

Each constituency has something to give and something it wants:

  • Consumers want media which is interesting, funny, relevant, etc. In a word, something salient. They are willing to pay attention if they find something.
  • Publishers, if they’re any good, have people paying attention to them. But unless they’re into the starving artist thing, they want money. And they’re willing to give up some of their received attention in exchange for money.
  • Lucky for them, advertisers want people to pay attention to their ads. And they are willing to pay Publishers who can deliver that attention.

It looks like this:

has wants
consumer attention salience
publisher salience dollars
advertiser dollars attention

Consider our friend Joe watching a TV show.

  • Joe wants to be entertained (salience) so he watches (pays attention to) American Idol (Published by NBC).
  • NBC wants money, so it shows adverisements to Joe (gives some of his attention to Coke)..
  • Coke wants to influence Joe’s behavior (via his attention) so it gives money to NBC in exchange for showing Joe the advertisement.

Of course, the same pattern emerges for subscribing to a blog, or reading a newspaper.
This gives us a certain flow by which each party gets what they want:

consumer ←salience
attention→
publisher attention→
←dollars
advertiser

From this view, you can see that Google starts by greasing the salience-for-attention exchange, but gets paid by taking a cut of the dollars-for-attention exchange. And the genius of it is that they use the data gained in the first exchange to increase the value of the second exchange: they show ads that are more salient because they know what the consumer was searching for or viewing..

consumer ←salience
attention→
publisher attention→
←dollars
advertiser
Google
Search
Google
AdSense

The final exchange which completes the circle is when the consumer gives money to the advertiser in exchange for stuff. In our example, when Joe goes out and buys a Coke.
Brad’s distinction is rich. I expect to find more nuggets within it.

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