The attention economy is a buzz term that was used in the late 1990s and early 2000s to describe the economic period that followed, in succession, the agricultural economy, the industrial economy, and the information economy. On the heels of the information economy, according to proponents of the attention-economy concept, human attention has become the scarcest resource amidst the swirl of information constantly bombarding consumers. The proliferation of communication media—television, radio, telephone, print, wireless communications, and the Internet—and their expanding and overlapping reach, creates a situation in which audiences are easily distracted. In order to gain and hold consumers' attention in such an environment, marketers must offer messages that audiences find meaningful and significant. Thus, products and services must be sold and marketed not just on their merits of utility, cost savings, and enjoyment, but with a thick layer of symbolic packaging and narratives that confer meaning in order to capture consumers' attention and money. In short, the attention economy privileges and emphasizes context over content.
On a less abstract level, the attention economy describes a state in which, on a Web site, the content, product, or service being offered is important but hardly sufficient. Rather, as a way of getting visitors to stay at a site and spend money, the site must feature an attractive image and user interface designed to augment the feelings and images the merchant wants them to harbor.
A central characteristic of the attention economy, according to Esther Dyson—a prominent commentator on Internet matters and the woman who coined the phrase—is the relative end of economic scarcity and general fulfillment of human needs. In the attention economy, she contends, consumers generally are free of want for life's necessities and comforts. This sets the stage for one of the primary challenges that e-commerce merchants face in their marketing strategies. Essentially, what marketers compete for is the attention of otherwise fulfilled customers.
Amidst an increasingly sophisticated advertising and entertainment culture, along with perpetual connectivity to media and a vast wealth of information at people's fingertips, the race to capture, hold, and channel people's attention has begun. Individual businesses and the greater economy count attention among the scarcest resources. Thus, attention has become a nexus of competition and strategy. Firms have begun to develop new ways of measuring and testing attention in order to harness it for economically beneficial ends. Meanwhile, the public's already fragmented attention continues to be divided into ever more potential revenue streams.
Davenport, Thomas H., and John C. Beck. "Getting the Attention You Need." Harvard Business Review. September/October 2000.
——. The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 2001.
Howard, Henry. "Capturing 'Attention."' Home Textiles Today. February 2000.
Roberts, Kevin. "Brand Identity 2000: Redefining the World." Advertising Age. November 29, 1999.
Sviokla, John. "The Attention Economy." Industry Standard. March 6, 2000.
SEE ALSO: Cyberculture