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How Lack of Attention is Killing your Message

by bdonahue

May I Have Your Attention, Please?

Messaging is king in political advertising and communications. In terms of determining the value of any ad, video, email, website, or call produced by a campaign, nothing is more important than its messaging. Was the message delivered and understood by the intended audience?

Message delivery was easier in the past. Campaigns had less money and just a few candidates had resources devoted to message strategy. Most importantly, Americans were never as distracted as they are today: kids have practice, tutors and a host of school events; commuters are bombarded by a cacophony of radio, satellite radio, books on tape, Pandora and GPS devices. Many parents sit before their TVs with laptops open, flipping through websites and hundreds of network stations simultaneously—when they aren’t watching TiVo, that is. Online browsing is a unique and individual experience as people read their favorite blogs, shop on their favorite online stores, and spend time on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. These 21st century attention-soakers are constantly distracting voters and opinion leaders away from your message.

Thomas Davenport and John Beck explore how the Information Age has impacted how we absorb information in their book The Attention Economy. Attention has become a new precious resource consisting of demand and delivery. People see something, then they forget it. Something is hot one day, then out the next.


The most successful brands and political movements or candidates are those who understand not only how to capture, but more importantly sustain their audience’s attention. Think Apple. Think Facebook. Think Sarah Palin, for a while. Think Herman Cain, now.

Political communicators and advertisers are challenged to gain attention, maintain attention, and build more attention. Attention is the fortress that houses the holy grail, The Message.

Why have so many failed to mine attention resources? Because most political consultants and communicators don’t fundamentally understand these three main ingredients that gain and maintain voters’ and opinion leaders’ attention:

Creativity. Politics has long lacked a healthy focus on creativity. Creativity is the act, the dance, the swagger, the music, the show that draws one in. Creativity gives political ads, videos, and emails their magnetic quality. Good creative is enjoyed and remembered. Good creativity serves an important function: it provides the trigger to emotion.

Emotion. People are not moved to action by interesting or amusing things. They are moved to act by something that taps them to the core and affects their emotional state. Emotions are powerful and influential generators of human action. Love, hate, warmth, passion, anger, disgust, loss or gain are feelings that drive people to take action or to vote for one candidate over another. Communications that evoke an emotional experience will get attention and cause the audience to crave more.

Integration. Attention is fleeting, here one minute, gone the next. However, attention does not necessarily need to be continuous to have an intended affect on an audience. Communication must hold attention continually. The best way to gain continual attention is through multiple communications channels. People listen to music, watch TV, read blogs, interact with Facebook, scan the newspaper, play on their smartphones. Their attention is constantly drawn to different places and mediums. The most effective tactic for finding and grabbing attention is to deliver your message across multiple channels. Communication integration is the bug in the ear: that inspiring ad on TV, that story a friend posted on Facebook, that sign in a neighbor’s yard, that funny video on YouTube, that spot on the radio in the car. That’s how people come to a decision about whom they will vote for or what issue they will espouse.

Political communications practices are currently going through a major transformation. Technology is improving, tactics are being refined. Now we must distract from the distractions and make sure an attention deficit doesn’t kill the message.