Managing Attention

Chris Janiszewski, University of Florida
Barbara Bickart, Rutgers University-Camden
[ to cite ]:
Chris Janiszewski and Barbara Bickart (1994) ,"Managing Attention", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 329.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 329


Chris Janiszewski, University of Florida

Barbara Bickart, Rutgers University-Camden

The study of attention is an enigma. Grocery retailers and manufacturers highlight the importance of attention every time they negotiate a trade promotion that includes a commitment to an end-of-aisle display. Retailers buy full-page newspaper ads, businesses double the size of their Yellow Page displays and direct marketers construct more inviting envelopes all in the hopes of increasing the attention consumers will devote to their message. Despite the tremendous amount of money spent on buying consumer attention, little to no research is done on attention. The rules developed 50 years agoCmake it bigger, make it brighter, make is easier to find and readCseem applicable today. Consumer attention is a competitive process that can only be achieved at the expense of others.

For many businesses, attention is not a competitive process, but a managed process. Grocery retailers are not interested in maximizing attention to a single item in a display, but promoting attention to as many items, in as many product categories, as possible. A mass merchandiser is not interested in simply getting consumers to attend to a feature advertisement in the Sunday newspaper, but in attending to all of the products featured in the ad. A catalog retailer not only wants to encourage the consumer to view merchandise, but to remember the merchandise that is being offered. Businesses seek to manage attention and to know the benefits of managed attention on consumer memory, inference making, belief formation and brand choice. This special topic session brought together a set of papers that investigates how retailers can manage attention and the potential benefits of managed attention from a variety of perspectives and in several contexts.

The first paper by Stephen J. Hoch, Zavier Dreze, and Mary E. Purk, described the results of a series of shelf-management experiments that assessed the sales and profit potential of micro-merchandising. These experiments were conducted in 20 different product categories in 60 Dominick's Finer Foods stores over a period of 4 to 6 months. The results suggest that brand shelf position has a significant impact on sales. Moving an item a couple of shelves up or down changes sales by an average of 40%, while moving it horizontally can affect sales by up to 105%. The number of facings allocated to an item influences sales in two ways. First, it limits the number of units available to the consumer and the probability of out-of-stocks; and second, it affects the amount of attention consumers devote to the itemCthe more facings, the higher the probability of being in the consideration set. These results suggest a small, but reliable influence of manipulating attention to the product display.

The second paper by Chris Janiszewski reported the results of two studies investigating the influence of display factors on attention in multi-item displays. Queuing theory was used to hypothesize that the amount of attention to a single item in a display would decline as the number of salient, potentially focal items surrounding the item increased. The surrounding items could comprise a visual processing queue and longer queues would encourage the visual system to engage in hurried information gathering. Across 48 four-item displays, distance was used to vary the queue size associated with any focal area. As the queue size associated with an area increased from one to two the amount of time spent viewing that area dropped by 8%. There was no decrease in viewing time associated with increasing the queue size from two to three. Similar results were obtained when this hypothesis was tested using measures of attention to catalog pages.

The third paper by Barbara Bickart, Lauranne Buchanan, and Carolyn Simmons discussed the results of an experiment that showed how display structure can be used to create attention, particularly when display structure holds meaning to the consumer. Specifically, they found that display structure affected consumers' perceptions of value for a familiar brand, but not an unfamiliar brand. The authors suggest that for the familiar brand, the display structure violated consumers' expectations, resulting in increased attention to and processing of contextual information. Thus, the use of an accessible brand attitude as an input to brand judgments (versus other, stimulus-based inputs) was partially contingent on whether the display structure violated consumers' expectations.

The final paper by Raymond Burke examined one specific application of managed attentionCthe processes by which manufacturers can reduce the effects of competitive activities on a new product introduction. The results of a series of computer-based simulated shopping experiments suggest that when a competitor cuts its price, consumers' attention to an unmerchandised new product drops significantly, while attention peaks when the new product was put on promotion. The results suggest that new products can get lost in the clutter at the point of purchase. Merchandising and promotions may enhance consumer attention, especially in the context of competitive promotions.

The session ended with a demonstration of Ray's newest simulated shopping software, which allows the consumer to select an item from the shelf and view it in three dimensions.