Attention Revolution: Attention as a currency: we need to build the foundations first

Mar 29, 2022

When you start to build a currency, you’re not doing it for the short-term. It must be enduring and stand the test of time. 

It seems at the moment that everywhere I look I see the same Lego infographic used to illustrate the concept of data organisation and it has had quite a few different interpretations depending on the author.

It was designed for business owners, by graphic designers, to simplify the complex nature of data arrangement and to portray that aesthetics are perhaps the most important part of information being useful. A bunch of Lego bricks can be sorted and arranged into colourful Lego towers that tell the right story.

But it’s worth remembering that those same bricks are the very foundation of the tower, if the bricks are dodgy the tower will fall.

The Lego infographic is a simplistic representation of a complex process in my opinion. It reminds me of a piece I wrote in The Attention Economy about what it takes to build something really solid.

In the book, I talk about Vitruvius and his guiding rules and principles for architecture and how in adhering to these rules, ‘durability will be assured’.

When you start to build a currency, you’re not doing it for the short-term –  it must be enduring and stand the test of time. You want something stable that will last and be of real value to the economy and society.

And the foundation of that stability is robust measurement, common standards and subsequent trust. The foundation of an attention currency will be robust attention data.

We can’t afford to repeat past mistakes

If we take thousands of Lego bricks and build a giant room, the current elephant-in-residence would be Nielsen. For nearly seven decades, the concept of measuring advertising effectiveness has been synonymous with their name. 

In 2021, the Video Advertising Bureau appealed to the Media Rating Council (MRC) to suspend Nielsen’s accreditation for national TV ratings. Overnight, networks were challenged to make sense of a world without Nielsen and create new measurements that could better reflect the ways in which people now watch TV and digital video.

The measurement landscape has had a sizable tremor and Nielsen now faces competition from several companies like Comscore, iSpot.tv and VideoAmp. Many of them are trying to make their mark as not only valid forms of measurement, but important forms of currency from which to evaluate advertising.

We have been here before, and can’t afford to do it again. The scale of this disruption has had its negative consequences on the advertising industry. The ill-informed promise of free reach sending us all off to hunt for the perfect viral video, instant measurement and hyper targeting sending our brands into decline, click bait style engagement metrics that made attribution promises they couldn’t keep.

What have we learned from this era? That when it comes to industry change, we should be considered over hasty. Even Shakespeare said that a hasty marriage seldom proveth well. 

Time for collective agreement on standards

The fact remains, that you can’t build a currency overnight. The American Dollar took more than 20 years to gain widespread unity, value and lawful tender. Bitcoin has been around since 2009, and while popular awareness is taking hold, it still doesn’t enjoy widespread trust. As a decentralised digital currency and lawful tender it will take time to build the type of unity that stability requires.

Viewability only took five years before it was even considered a metric that could hold the industry accountable. And now here we are, staring viewability down the barrel and saying that it doesn’t work. I have no doubt if more time was spent vailading viewability as a metric, we wouldn’t be facing this problem right now. Lessons to be learned here.

One of the main reasons I have backed attention as a contender in the currency race is that, from early on in my academic years, I could see that only human data would give us what we need for reliable, transparent and meaningful metrics to fuel a measurement ecosystem.

Getting the right data to put into products that can plan, trade and verify advertising will fuel this economy. But our industry needs to collectively agree on the standards of attention data it will accept before it can even come close to using attention as a currency.

Perfectly arranged Lego towers are still just a pile of bricks if they fall over.