Harnessing the Combined Power of Active and Passive Attention to Drive Business Outcomes

Proving the power of Passive Attention


Dr Karen Nelson-Field, CEO Amplified Intelligence, with contributions from Pinterest


Active Attention, defined as the seconds spent directly and consciously looking at an ad, has been the principal focus of the attention economy in recent years. However, there is more to consider, especially for businesses with diverse brand requirements.

Passive Attention, where users are subconsciously aware of an ad, holds untapped potential and offers an efficient way to drive business outcomes, particularly longer-term brand equity for larger brands that already have established distinctiveness.

This research highlights the hidden value of Passive Attention and its role in achieving business outcomes. It reinforces previous work by Amplified Intelligence, showing that brand size plays a pivotal role in shaping the relationship between attention and outcomes.

We demonstrate that granular attention data, capturing both Passive and Active Attention, is essential for developing distinct strategies tailored to brands with varying campaign objectives.


Both Active and Passive Attention play crucial roles in information processing, particularly in advertising.

Active Attention involves deliberate and focused mental engagement, closely linked to memory creation and decision-making through active learning processes. However, sustaining Active Attention on ads is challenging because ads are often not the viewer’s primary focus. Viewers tend to actively avoid them. While some publishers may interrupt content with intrusive ad formats, quality publishers who prioritise content over blatant advertising struggle to capture extended Active Attention, presenting a value exchange dilemma where ads are a principal income source.

Passive Attention, in contrast, involves less deliberate and unfocused engagement where the brain processes information subconsciously, relying on implicit memory without intentional focus. Passive Attention is more prevalent when high-quality content engages the viewer, keeping ads in the periphery. This type of attention is suitable for contexts where sustained mental effort isn’t required.

Both types of attention influence consumer responses to advertising but are utilised in different contexts. Active Attention typically sparks initial awareness and introduces new information. Passive Attention serves as a reminder, reinforcing previously learned memory cues.

Combined, Active and Passive Attention form ‘Total Attention’. In this research, we examined the effects of active, Passive, and Total Attention on their ability to predict business outcomes.

Research Methodology

We conducted a comprehensive study of 59,000 ads across 40 brands to uncover the impact of different types of attention on various business outcomes, including Short Term Sales Lift (STAS), Site Traffic (measured using a 7/7/7 attribution window), and long-term brand equity (assessed by Mental Availability). This study encompassed brands of varying market sizes across six countries and industries such as food & drink, retail, beauty, financial services, hospitality, fashion, auto, and household goods.

Human attention data was collected in real-time on the Pinterest platform using Amplified’s advanced smart eye-tracking and facial detection technology. Given the importance of creative elements and emotional responses in determining outcomes, panelists were exposed to their personal feeds, and facial expressions were coded to detect subtle emotional changes throughout the viewing experience. This data was integrated with survey responses and behavioral campaign data to analyse performance variance across the specified business outcomes.

We then conducted a gradient boosting regression analysis on 89 creatives across 32 campaigns, considering 20 different features. The site traffic conversion rate and attentive seconds (Passive, active, and total) for each creative were indexed to the campaign/brand total. These indices, along with other features (such as reach, spend, vertical, creative best practice adherence, etc.), were processed through the gradient boosting algorithm and ranked by their ability to predict site traffic performance, STAS, and Mental Availability. The analysis was further refined by segmenting brands into Large and Small Market Share categories.

Key Findings

Passive Attention is the highest importance predictor of driving outcomes for big brands, while Active Attention is the highest importance predictor of outcomes for small brands.

Human attention to advertising, whether Active, Passive, or a combination of both (Total Attention), was found to be the most strongly related to all tested outcomes, including STAS, site traffic, and long-term brand equity. However, the ranking of influence of attention types varied slightly when the analysis was split between large and small brands.

For smaller and less established brands, the leading predictors of measured outcomes were Active Attention, followed by Passive Attention. These brands, with lower market share and typically reduced levels of brand equity, benefit significantly from advertising strategies that emphasise Active Attention. Active Attention involves more sustained and deliberate mental engagement, which is crucial for creating memory and influencing decision-making through active learning processes.

For larger and more established brands, the leading predictors of measured outcomes were Passive Attention, followed by Total Attention (a combination of Passive and Active Attention), with Active Attention ranking third. This suggests that well-established brands, which typically possess strong mental availability and distinctive assets, benefit more from attention that reinforces brand equity rather than educating consumers. The higher ranking of Total Attention over Active Attention implies that having access to both types of attention on the same platform creates a synergistic effect for large brands. This dual access not only encourages repeat purchases among existing buyers but also educates new buyers about the brand and its offerings. Supporting this, deeper data analysis reveals that Passive Attention is more crucial for long-term objectives like brand equity, while Active Attention plays a significant role in achieving short-term goals such as site traffic and STAS.

These findings align with previous research involving a leading soft drink brand across multiple media platforms (in contrast to this study, which examines multiple brands on a single platform) (Nelson-Field (2024). The Nuance of Size and the Attention/Outcomes Relationship. WARC). Previous findings indicated that brand size mediates the value of each type of attention: smaller brands achieve more uplift per active second compared to larger brands. Specifically, smaller brands derive more value from each second of Active Attention they capture .

Additionally, while both image and video formats rank equally in importance in this study, their effectiveness was found to differ depending on whether a brand requires Active or Passive Attention to achieve desired outcomes. This research found that high-impact video formats are particularly effective at capturing Active Attention. High-impact videos engage viewers more deeply, making them ideal for creating memorable impressions and driving immediate actions such as site visits and conversions. Conversely, native static image formats are particularly effective at driving Passive Attention reinforcing pre-existing brand knowledge. Images maintain brand visibility and mental availability, particularly for larger brands, without requiring intense viewer engagement.

Finally, this research shows that in the hierarchy of factors influencing outcomes, attention metrics—Passive, Total, and Active Attention—consistently outrank viewability. This aligns with other market studies we’ve undertaken, reinforcing that even direct measures like site traffic from a publisher’s performance report show that viewability, often considered a primary quality indicator, underperforms in predicting campaign success compared to real human attention.

Fig 1. Drivers of Site Traffic – Split by Big and Small Brands.

Strategic Implications for Brands

  1. a) Maximise the Attention Flywheel

Our study highlights the importance of adopting a balanced attention strategy in media planning. Emphasising the synergistic value of both Passive and Active Attention can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of campaigns. Integrating these attention types can create a powerful flywheel effect:

  • Passive Attention: Strengthens brand equity by leveraging existing brand assets, reinforcing brand presence, and nudging existing buyers towards repeat purchases.
  • Active Attention: Drives growth by engaging new buyers through sustained mental engagement, creating memory, and influencing decision-making by educating them about the brand and its offerings.

Think of it in terms of a strategic balance between brand growth and brand maintenance. Passive Attention helps maintain brand presence and loyalty among existing customers, while Active Attention drives growth by converting new buyers. This combined approach ensures that advertising not only captures existing category buyers but also attracts new ones, regardless of the brand’s size. The flywheel effect amplifies the overall impact of campaigns, ensuring sustained engagement, higher conversion rates, and improved long-term brand equity.

  1. b) Tailor Attention Strategies for Brand Size and Marketing Objectives

Marketers should align their media strategies with their brand’s market size and campaign goals:

For Well-Established Brands:

  • Leverage Passive Attention: Use platforms and ad formats that excel in generating Passive Attention to reinforce brand presence, capitalising on strong mental availability and existing consumer loyalty.
  • Complement with Active Attention: Introduce Active Attention strategies where appropriate to launch new products or messages.

For Smaller Brands:

  • Prioritise Active Attention: Focus on strategies that enhance visibility and create lasting impressions through Active engagement.
  • Use Engaging Platforms: Select platforms and ad formats that facilitate sustained interaction with the brand message.
  • Integrate Passive Attention as Growth Occurs: Gradually incorporate Passive Attention strategies to maintain engagement and solidify market presence as brand awareness and market share grow.

Customise attention strategies based on brand size and objectives, ensuring that well-established brands reinforce their presence while smaller brands build visibility and engagement.

  1. c) Integrate Attention Metrics into Attribution Models

Incorporate nuanced attention metrics (both Active and Passive) into Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) to enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of marketing strategies. Traditional MMM models often fail to capture the full spectrum of consumer engagement and its impact on campaign performance.

Strategic Integration:

  • Differentiate Attention Types: Distinguish between Active and Passive Attention to develop comprehensive attribution models.
  • Link Attention to Outcomes: Connect specific types of attention to various campaign outcomes, such as short-term conversions and long-term brand growth.
  • Optimise ROI Calculations: Enhance the granularity of ROI calculations by identifying which types of attention drive the most value for specific objectives.

Use detailed attention metrics to refine attribution models and improve ROI calculations ensuring a more accurate and effective marketing strategy.


Our extensive research found that both types of attention—Active and Passive—are integral to driving key business outcomes, with the relative importance of each type determined by brand size and specific campaign objectives. 

In essence, while Active Attention is crucial for immediate sales lift, particularly for smaller brands, our findings underscore that Passive Attention is equally vital, offering a cost-effective way to enhance site traffic and build long-term brand equity.

This work demonstrates that to maximise impact potential, it is essential to understand the lifecycle stage of a brand and how different platforms can help capture and harness attention effectively. This understanding empowers brands to plan and strategise with attention at the forefront, optimising their marketing efforts for greater effectiveness and efficiency.

By leveraging both Active and Passive Attention strategically, brands can achieve a balanced approach that supports immediate engagement and long-term growth, ultimately leading to more successful marketing outcomes and sustainable business performance.

Want to find out more?


Looking to delve deeper into attention metrics? Learn about the DNA of the Attention Economy, Attention Profiles or how to capture attention in media.

Or you can discover more about Amplified Intelligence and our team, keep up with the latest news or contact our Customer Success Team to discover how we can help you utilise attention marketing to deliver true commercial success for you, your business or your clients.