In 1999, researchers Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris uncovered some astounding insights in how people perceive the world around them.
Their "Invisible Gorilla" experiment asked people to focus on a video of other people passing basketballs to one another and count the number of hand-offs. Halfway through the video, someone dressed in a gorilla suit walks in and out of the scene thumping its chest around. When asked if anything unusual or if someone in a gorilla suit appeared in the video, about half of the test subjects said they missed the whole thing.
Credit: Daniel J. Simons via YouTube
How could that possibly be?
Ultimately, this experiment indicated the saliency of an important point: Looking is not the same as seeing. Simply reaching someone's field of view is not the same as being perceived, understood and considered.
Advertising could learn a thing or two from this lab experience. Consumers have always had the ability to be distracted by advertising, but the proliferation of technology has created infinitely more opportunities for that to happen. And, amidst our unending chase for mass reach, it must be acknowledged that we haven't effectively, and in a scalable way, incorporated attention within how we conduct business, specifically how we plan, sell, buy and evaluate the impact of video advertising.
We've transitioned from being able to deliver impactful advertising campaigns that stir up cultural moments, to creating too many ads that gunk up the viewing experience. We've helped foster a whole generation of skeptical, disinterested, and inattentive consumers.
Some may say that people have come to dislike advertising altogether, but that's not necessarily true. There's plenty of advertising that is celebrated and welcomed by people today. Rather, people dislike and tune out irrelevant disruption.
For advertisers, the importance of attention is intuitive. If someone does not pay attention to your ad, it won't have an impact. But, as with most things, there is a lot of nuance there, and putting some hard facts and figures behind that intuition helps with understanding the scope.
And, that's exactly what we did; here is what we found.
All exposures are not created equal
Imagine two scenarios of TV viewing: one where a person is intently watching a TV program and one where a person is watching TV but also tapping away on their phone.