Age of the Attention Hog

09/06/2007 | 112 Comments

Local TV news programs often follow a very simple directive:
“If it bleeds, it leads.”

That’s why crime stories and negative news regularly top the daily newscasts. “Bad news” almost always steals our attention.

The “good news” about the church that raised $100,000 for a blind orphan comes much later in the newscast – if it makes the news at all.

attention_hog.jpgFrustrating, isn’t it? Why do the negatives often grab the spotlight from the positives? Why is our attention drawn to negative thoughts and events?

Blame it on the “attention hogs.”

Sept. 11, 2001. It got our attention. Evil terrorist attacks on the United States and the resulting, ongoing war on terrorism. It’s held our attention.

But while fear and bad news often grab the headlines,  our “good news” – perhaps your own marketing message – suffers as a consequence of dastardly “attention hogs.” By capturing and holding attention, these hogs leave little room for other more attention-worthy news.

Just who are these attention hogs?

The list is long and it grows longer by the day…

Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, the late Anna Nicole Smith and Princess Diana. They join the ranks of Monica Lewinsky, Barry Bonds, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, global warming, Hurricane Katrina, Harry Potter, and the Apple iPhone on our impromptu list.

They are all persons or entities that have won our attention, for better or worse, in the Attention Age.

Not all will hold a treasured place in our memories. In fact, many may be fading as we speak, but they still receive attention. At least for a moment – usually more – and just long enough for us to emotionally brand our brains.

Our attention is a scarce resource, and so is the attention of the marketplace. How we allocate our own attention really matters.

But there are those “attention hogs” among us who are trying to steal more bandwidth. They want real estate in our brains, and with the help of technology and mass media, many have left their mark forever.

Attention hogs not only suck your attention, but they make it more difficult for your own marketing to be successful. In essence, we are all competing with Paris Hilton and the terrorists for attention.paris_hilton.gif

When people are paying attention to them, they’re not paying attention to you and your products.

Terrorism is clearly an instrument of attention-getting cowardice. Osama bin Laden is known worldwide as a terrorist mastermind. His name and face are synonymous with terrorism. Bin Laden’s acts of terror have made an emotional connection in our brain. He captures that much of our attention, as we hope to capture him.

Far from the only evil “hog” in this Attention Age, Bin Laden is joined by the Virginia Tech killer – no name is necessary – as having successfully seared his image and actions in our brain. The tragic events at Virginia Tech in 2007 and the 33 people killed will long be remembered, even if the name of the killer is soon forgotten.

Why do we know or care about Paris Hilton? How do we know about Lindsay Lohan’s progress in rehab? What about Anna Nicole Smith or the intimate details and tragic turns in Princess Diana’s life and death?

All are celebrity-driven drains on our attention, with two receiving more attention in death than the considerable attention they had already received in life.

Why? Because we allow them to take hold of our attention and keep a piece of it for themselves.

Barry Bonds sets a home run record, but we pay more attention to rumors of “performance-enhancement drugs.” Monica Lewinsky becomes infamous for an adulterous affair with President Bill Clinton. Her last name becomes a slang term for oral sex. Now, that’s attention.

Hurricane Katrina is a metaphor for natural disaster, hope and recovery. Global warming straddles the line between hoax and reality. Oprah is Oprah. Harry Potter is a book-selling, movie-making wizard. And the iPhone becomes the “next big thing.”

All claim attention, all are attention hogs. They hold themselves up as “winners” in the Attention Age.

The losers? Anyone who pays too much attention to any one or all of these winners. They are not all worthy of that much attention, but they get it just the same.

Remember: What we give them in attention, we can never reclaim as our own.

So let me ask you this: What are you receiving from all of the attention you freely give?


In other words… What is your “return on attention” – your personal ROA – from the attention you so willingly pay to the attention hogs?

Create a list of the “good” and “bad” attention hogs in your life.

Tell us what you demand in return from each attention hog and how you will make them earn your attention in the future.

Let’s discover new ways to channel our attention, fight off the hogs, and help our businesses grow.

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