How selective attention, distortion, and retention work in marketing

October 12, 2022

Man using mobile

From phones to TVs to laptops and tablets, consumers today are often spreading their attention across multiple screens at once. Content is available everywhere on multiple devices where consumers stream, shop, play, and socialize. In a 2021 survey from eMarketer, 52% of internet users said they simultaneously use their smartphone while watching video content on a TV, 28% their desktop or laptop, and 24% their tablet; only 28% used no other device. Brands want to ensure they’re connecting with consumers, even when they’re using multiple devices. That’s where we turn to selective attention marketing, which helps brands craft messages that are most valuable to consumers to stand out among all the other distractions spread out across screens.

A guide to selective attention, distortion, and retention in marketing

What is selective attention?

In human psychology, selective attention is defined as “the capacity for or process of reacting to certain stimuli selectively when several occur simultaneously.” In other words, selective attention refers to our ability to focus on the most important information when there are other distractions. Take, for example, reading a book in a loud coffee shop: Even though there are other conversations taking place in your vicinity, you’re mostly paying attention to the words on the page.

Why is selective attention important in marketing?

In marketing, selective attention is the inclination for consumers to pay attention to messages that connect with their needs, beliefs, interests, and values. For example, if a consumer is hungry while watching a show on TV and simultaneously scrolling social media on their phone, they may be more likely to pay attention to the photo of a hamburger a friend has posted.

What is selective distortion?

Selective distortion is defined as the tendency for people to interpret information in a way that supports previously established beliefs or perceptions. For example, if you’re a dog lover and see a trailer for a movie about a dog, you may experience that trailer differently than someone who prefers cats.

Why is selective distortion important in marketing?

Selective distortion in marketing refers to how consumers interpret brand messaging in a way that fits with their preconceptions of that brand. For example, if someone has purchased from a laptop brand and has a good experience with that product, they may interpret advertisements from that brand in a different way from someone who is unfamiliar with that brand. For marketers and advertisers, knowing how selective distortion can change the interpretation of advertisements, it is important for them to understand their audiences and craft messaging that is meaningful and relevant. This is why a customer-centric approach to marketing and advertising can be a key part of a brand’s strategy.

What is selective retention?

Selective retention is the inclination for people to be more likely to remember information that closely aligns with their needs, beliefs, interests, and values. Continuing with the movie hypothetical, if you are a dog lover, you may be more likely to remember the trailer for the movie about a dog than someone who prefers cats.

Why is selective retention important in marketing?

Selective retention in marketing refers to how customers remember brand messaging based on their previously established needs, beliefs, interests, and values. Studies show that consumers prefer to interact with brands that align with their needs, beliefs, interests, and values. According to a study from Environics Research and Amazon Ads, 79% of consumers agree with the statement: “I am more likely to purchase products or services from brands whose values align with my own.”

In a recent advertising campaign, for example, a water brand developed custom landing pages with messaging intended to connect with different consumers based on their needs, beliefs, interests, and values. By reaching consumers with relevant messaging, this water brand saw a +45% increase in ad recall vs. category benchmarks. This case study illustrates why selective retention can be important for marketers and advertisers to consider in order to help make their messaging more memorable.

What is second-screen advertising?

With people’s attention split across multiple devices, second-screen advertising is a marketing concept that involves brand messaging that connects with consumers across different points of attention. Between 2018 and 2022, the number of simultaneous internet and TV users in the US is projected to increase from 173.1 million to 197.3 million, according to Statista. Using the internet and watching content on a TV is one example of second-screen usage. Using a phone while shopping is another popular second-screen usage.

What does second-screen advertising mean for marketers?

Brands have an opportunity to connect with consumers across these devices through second-screen advertising. According to Statista, one of the most popular activities undertaken by smartphone users while watching content on TV is to look up information on actors, athletes, plotlines, or teams. Studies also show that shopping and social media usage are also popular activities among second-screen users. Brands can reach audiences where they’re already spending their time, for example, by advertising during a streaming sporting event with a call to action that directs audiences to learn more or shop on their tablet or phone.

What is the attention economy?

The term attention economy refers the multimedia competition for eyes and ears as the attention spans of consumers become an increasingly scarce commodity.

At unBoxed 2022, Amazon Ads’ annual conference, we’ll share how brands can elevate their campaigns with creative and agile messaging in order to connect and engage with audiences—even if they are multitasking on two devices.