Sorin Patlilinet, Mars Inc.

Attention as a Proxy for Business Outcomes

Sorin Patilinet, Senior Director Consumer Insights at Mars Inc., is one of the most vocal proponents for attention from the client-side. We’ve been fortunate to work directly with Mars for several years, and our combined work on Mars' ACE platform has won several awards.

He discussed why attention helps determine what triggers consumer reactions, how it can be a proxy for business outcomes, and why the “stop, start, continue” method is the best way for brands who want to understand attention better.


Our first question is an expansive one: Why is attention so important for advertisers and marketers?

Well, it's the buzzword of the year, no? And it's been the buzzword of the year for some time now. Jokes aside, attention is important for advertisers. During the last decade or so, we have slowly forgotten that at the end of our hard work, it's a consumer that is consuming the messages that we put out there. And they've given us different signals that maybe what we're doing and the choices we're making are not perfect, from using ad blocking to skipping behaviors to second screen viewings and so on.

Focusing on attention means focusing on what consumers are spotlighting, and it's a great opportunity for advertisers to be more consumer-centric and understand what platforms and formats are driving a better reaction. So they can navigate this kind of opportunity that is more and more complex in the multimedia world.



I would advise the industry to continue to push forward and adopt attention as a quality of media. We’re making steps in the right direction, but there needs to be a little bit more consensus



Why is attention such a hot topic and something that people are focusing on today? Is it that we're moving from the lab to practical applications? Or is the technology catching up? Why is attention having its big moment today?

It's not just attention that's having a big moment. It's measurement of outcomes that's having a big moment. The industry is a little bit done talking about the opportunities of big data, so the biggest opportunity is more relevant messages and a better understanding of output. I can only speak about Mars here, but I think attention offers an amazing way to look at what triggers consumer reactions. At Mars, we've been involved in this topic for quite some time now. Because from an angle that looked for a proxy for business outcomes, we've been using attention at the creative level to understand what messages are holding the consumers' interest a little bit more than the other, and therefore optimizing the messages we put up there. Because the last thing you want is an ad that someone pays one second of attention to and then completely ignores it until the end. That's a wasted budget. And so, obviously Mars is very invested in attention and has been leading from the brand side.


What is your advice for another brand that has read about attention and is interested in bringing it to their organization but maybe doesn't know where to start?

Most advertisers I've spoken to are already on a path to embracing attention. I think there are very few that are ignoring the topic, which is great. Let's use the “start, stop, continue” framework. It's easy to think about it that way. I would “start” by advising them to look at the percentage of attention their communication is getting across platforms or across different brands and executions. They might be at least worried, if not shocked, by how much their executions, in which they spend so much time and effort, are basically seen for drops of seconds, drops of time.

For “stop,”, there is a big workstream that many of our peer companies, and sometimes even at Mars, see happening: we want to establish a correlation and causation between attention and sales. It's hard because the way you capture attention is not the same across TV and digital. So, I don’t think the practices are so evolved to be able to draw that correlation.

I would say stop trying to look for the link to the sale. But no one can say that less attention is better than more attention. So, you can always optimize so that your format, your media placement, and your creative gets more attention than before. The last one would be “continue.” I would advise the industry to continue to push forward and adopt attention as a quality of media. We’re making steps in the right direction. Still, there needs to be a little bit more consensus among all players in the industry to make that goal because once that is set, we’re in a space in which we put consumers first and stop talking about CPMs when we're talking about consumer behaviors in media buying processes.

(This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and length.)