Calm Advertising – Position Paper

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After a fruitful discussion at the Pervasive Advertising Workshop on May this year, I hope to continue the diaologue on Calm Advertising next Friday at the Informatik 2009 conference.

As I wrote earlier about the first Workshop on Pervasive Advertising:

“The workshop topic inspired us to develop a concept of “Calm Advertising” that refers to the vision of “Calm Computing” and focuses on a new way of public advertising that doesn`t aim to shout out lout messages to get peoples attention but enable passers-by to freely engage in the communication with advertising companies.”


Figure 1: Influence of Attention and Engagement [according to 4]

At the 2nd Workshop on Pervasive Advertising on October 2, 2009 in Lübeck, I will present a position paper that approaches pervasive advertising from a marketing perspective. It provides a short introduction into the shift from an economy of attention to an economy of engagement. In the second part it analyses seminal research on interactive screens and shows how passers-by can actively engage with public displays.

From attention to engagement

For a long time, information was considered to be one of the most important resource of the information age but with the spread of digital technology, information is no longer a scarce commodity but became ubiquitous. As Richard A. Lanham puts it:

“If economics is about the allocation of resources, then what is the most precious resource in our new information age? Certainly not information, for we are drowning in it. No, what we are short of is the attention to make sense of that information.” [1]

Thus, for an advertising company, not the spread of information was the main difficulty, but the attention of their customers. The attention economy served as a guiding paradigm for traditional advertisers and e.g. led to the established AIDA model, that is used to describe a basic buying process that includes Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. As attention is the first step in the buying process it plays a very central role in successfully selling products [2].

Today, we see an important shift in consumer behavior. With the advent of large participatory platforms like Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook, usage of the Internet is not limited to passive reception. Passive consumers become actively engaged. Given the growth of user generated content, businesses and advertising in particular explore possible competitive advantages and try to best benefit from the development [3].

In their analysis of the altered relation between companies and consumers, Li and Bernoff use the marketing funnel in figure 1 to describe the transition from an economy of attention to an economy of engagement:

“In tradition marketing theory, consumers are driven into the big end through awareness activities like advertising. They proceed through stages – including consideration, preference, and action – to become buyers. Marketers have little control over what happens in the middle stages” [4]

but the influence of the economy of engagement seems to be the strongest there.

The authors describe active engagement as when customers start to lead the conversation about a product and when they support each other:

„With so many products trying to get people’s attention, shouting at them isn’t nearly as effective as it used to be. […] Marketers no longer dictate the path people take, nor do they lead the dialogue. Once people are aware of you product, a new dynamic kicks in: people are learning from each other. Social technologies have revved up that word-of-mouth dynamic, increasing the influence of regular people while diluting the value of traditional marketing. […] Costumers in the middle of the funnel are engaged in conversations on blogs, in discussion forums, and in social networks. Your company can participate in these places, but shouting doesn’t work. Conversations do.” [4]

To advertise their products, companies still need to get the attention of their customers. But understanding the dynamics of an economy of engagement, marketers should connect attention with engagement. In the process of communication they should first get the attention of their customers and second enable engagement further down the marketing funnel. In enabling engagement they can strengthen the relationship with the consumer and increase their involvement.

The position paper will analyze engagement possibilities with interactive screens. While in the past the ability to actively engage with public displays was not an option, this now seems to be changing. It is my hope that pervasive advertising will not start to shout out loud to get attention of customers, but enable a new way of calm advertising where customers collaborate and freely and quietly engage with public screens based on their current needs.


[1]    Lanham, Richard (2006), The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information, University of Chicago Press

[2]    Marketing: Meffert, H. Burmann, C., Kirchgeorg, (2007), Gabler Verlag

[3]    H. Send, D. Michelis: Contributing and socialization – biaxial segmentation for users generating content, 9th International Conference on Innovative Internet Community Systems (German article)

[4]    Li, C. / Bernoff, J. (2008), Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, Harvard Business School Press


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