“Engagement” is the buzzword of advertising industry. On the internet, television or any other medium we strive to engage the customer, who—overwhelmed by the multitude of messages—just keeps getting better at ignoring us. But we (I write “we” meaning “advertisers” or “agencies”) have problem building this very engagement. Why? Because we approach the topic in a too standard manner.

Allow me to use the extreme example. What is the engagement in advertising? In my world the word is synonymous to “paying attention”. The sheer volume of information made attention a rarity, so if we can make consumer notice us, we win. The problem arises when you start to think of ways to get customers’ attention. Formats start to appear. On the internet you can find an interesting infographic called The Hierarchy of Digital Distractions. It perfectly illustrates the problem we have to face. Imagine you are sitting in front of a laptop computer trying to do any kind of actual work. Many things happening on the computer can—with lesser or greater success—distract us from what we are currently trying to accomplish. This is the aforementioned hierarchy of engagement. And so—according to the infographic—work-related email or newsletter is less likely to draw our attention than, say, email with a link to video of small kittens joyfully chasing some yarn (c’mon, admit it). Email in most cases, however, gets beaten by Facebook invitation—especially if it comes from a person looking great on his or her profile photo. And so on…

Do you know what is the most engaging distraction when you’re working on a laptop computer? You probably think I will mention some super-popular social networking site here. Nope. The thing you will find most difficult to ignore is your co-worker (spouse, child, put an appropriate noun here)… closes the lid in front of your face. Beats the hell out of any sex chat, right?

As marketers we have no problem building engagement using the media we got to know well. Hence, all the Facebook contests, TV or radio ads. Problem is, the formats we are using have been created with a different medium in mind. So the attention load of the format is far from peak load we can squeeze out of new medium. Passive viewing of an emotional ad is great on TV or in the movies. But watching the very same ad on the internet, where besides passive consumption, you can interact with the entire virtual world, is far from perfect. Making people watch the same ad on a small smart phone screen is a disaster in the making. Yet that very phone can tell where you are and you have it on you everywhere you go. It begs for a new format.

What will new formats look like? See this movie.

[zilla_alert style="yellow"] This text appeared in October issue of “Brief” magazine. [/zilla_alert]