The Attention Economy and the demise of the middle ground

This post first appeared in The Guardian on 6th bellJuly 2016

Some time in the last five years, attention became the only currency in town. We might argue it was ever thus- since the dawn of time stunts, snakeoil, and slogans have all had their place. Yet with the advent of social media and online news, eyeballs are everything. We exist in a race for clicks which rewards the extreme at the expense of the erudite, the controversial over the considered.

What’s particularly sobering right now, however, is the extent to which the attention economy is shaping the tenor of our political debate. The primacy of the impression has created a political discourse which draws its inspiration increasingly from the world of clickbait. Inevitably, this environment privileges the most provocative of views. What is lost in the middle is nuance.

Donald Trump, it was recently reported, has generated almost $2bn in earned media over the course of the course of his campaign to date, dwarfing Republican and Democrat competitors alike. Meanwhile, a reported 82% of newspaper coverage of the EU referendum focused on Brexit versus remain.

This more polarised tone of voice has also spilled over into how we engage with one another around the issues. Those who disagree with us are easy to dismiss as trolls while, as Jerry Daykin points out, the self-selecting nature of social media creates filter bubbles which comfortably reinforce our own world view and make other opinions ever more alien.

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Digital disruption: the rebirth of marketing?

Marketing is probably one of the most devalued and derided words of our time. So much so that it’s seldom seen in the blogosphere without some kind of expletive attached. Ranting aside, you’ll consistently see some of the best and most interesting thinkers in the digital space declaring that they aren’t interested in, or “don’t do” marketing.

It’s a statement that shows the steady devaluation of a term that once meant much more.

Once upon a time, marketing was about the fabled “4 Ps”:  Product, Price, Place and Promotion. People have introduced new “Ps” as time has gone on-people, processes, pleasure to name a few but the original four are a good place to start. Marketing was the science of assessing a marketplace and understanding which combination of these levers could most compellingly drive a brand or product forward.

The trouble is that marketing became preoccupied-and defined-by the fourth and perhaps least exciting P-Promotion. One of the most exciting aspects of the digital world  is that for by taking the cost and infrastructure implications out of changing product, place and price it gives marketers back the opportunity to influence businesses in a much more profound and exciting way. It’s an opportunity for marketers to transform businesses and for businesses to experiment again with genuinely radical thinking.

With that in mind, it’s truly extraordinary that anyone still thinks the most interesting use of digital is as another place to put promotional messages. And it’s no coincidence that the most exciting digital initiatives are coming from smart people thinking about how they can change product, price and place then use promotion to, as the always excellent John Willshire puts it, tell the stories of the things they’ve done.

Think about how you can impact product, price and place-then promote the things you've done


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