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Do I Have Your Attention? Bottom-Up Attention and Neuromarketing


In our previous blog, we discussed what attention is from a consumer behaviour perspective and briefly covered Top-Down vs Bottom-Up attention. Today, we want to do a deep dive into how Bottom Up attention is used to attract customers’ attention at every touchpoint, be it a website, app, social media, point of sale or on TV.

The Attention Economy

This term is thrown around a lot – but what does it actually mean?

Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon said that attention is the “bottleneck of human thought” and what we perceive and do is limited by this bottleneck. This is especially true of today, where we have massive amounts of information being thrown at us constantly and we can only focus on a very tiny amount of it. The brain is very selective in how attention is allocated because it takes up an immense amount of energy. As a result, attention is a valuable commodity and every brand, product and service is vying for it. This is the Attention Economy, which was predicted in the late 90s by physicist Michael Goldhaber, who said that the economy would shift from materials-based to attention-based


The Attention Economy is why social media is designed to keep you scrolling longer than you need or want to – brands are paying more if you’re more likely to spot them during a scroll. It’s why Spotify gives you the choice between paying a subscription fee or listening to ads: you’re either paying for the service with money or with your attention. Both are valuable.

How Marketers Channel Bottom-Up Attention (without realising it)

Bottom up attention is the quick, unconscious attention we give things without realising. It is attracted, broadly, by three things: emotional relevance, moving objects and unexpected events.

Emotional relevance refers to things which elicit an immediate emotional response from us. The biggest culprits are referred to as primary stimuli. They are things that our brains consider critical to life: food, reproduction and avoiding threats. This is why food advertising focuses heavily on creating the most appealing images possible, why more attractive people are used in TV ads, and why a lot of copy focuses on an immediate, punchy issue – “act now!” “limited offer!” “don’t miss out!” – that indicate scarcity and make us feel like we’re missing something. To harness this in your own marketing, consider emotive, urgent copy (where applicable with your branding) and appealing to your customer’s basic urges.

Secondary stimuli for emotional relevance are things that we have learned. These depend on the experiences of the individual. If we associate a certain brand or product with a specific emotion, such as joy, we’re more likely to notice it than a brand we don’t associate with any emotions, even if that brand might objectively be a better fit for us. This is why advertising is effective when it focuses on eliciting strong emotions. These emotions become associated with the brand and make customers more likely to purchase the brand over its competitors later. It’s important to establish a strong emotional connection or common ground with your audience in advertising, over and above simply stating the cold facts about your brand.

Moving objects naturally catch attention because our brains want to make sure the movement isn’t a threat. This is why a lot of the advertising you see on social media platforms tends to be in a video format. Our gaze is captured by the movement and we want to see what happens next. This is also why a lot of storefronts try to have moving displays, or websites will have shifting images on the homepage.

Unexpected events are interesting to our brains because they contain more new information than expected events. If you think of your brain as constantly looking for threats, you can understand why it’s important for it to gather information on something novel rather than on something it knows. Our brains also learn quickly, so something that surprised us once or even a few times before will eventually become old information, and therefore not gain as much attention. If this was not the case, companies could keep using the same successful ads for years on end.

It’s important to note, too, that Bottom-Up attention is context-dependent. If we are focusing hard on something, such as work or a tricky task, it’s much harder for us to become distracted. This is why our e-mail homepages have almost no advertising compared to, for example, our social media feeds. It’s also why considering where your ad is going to be placed is critical.

Salience and Neuromarketing

When we talk about the ability of something to draw attention, we are referring to its salience. The more salient something is, the more likely your eye is to be drawn to it.

Using AI, Neuromarketers can predict, within 80-90% accuracy, which parts of an image or video would be the most salient for viewers. Computer vision AI algorithms are however still limited in their ability to account for context; but they do provide useful information on what is likely to be the most visually salient objects which can help marketers test and refine their advertising activities without the need for human test subjects. This is part of our Desire-Need-Action consulting model, which you can find more information for here.

For more accuracy, Neuromarketers can also use eye-tracking to see, in real-time what customers’ eyes are drawn to, where they focus, and what they don’t notice. This is especially powerful in combination with measures such as facial coding technology and galvanic skin response. These measure the types of emotions that customers are feeling and how strong these emotions are. Combined, these technologies paint a strong picture of how customers experience your brand, product or service at any number of customer touchpoints.

Book a consultation with us to find the best way for you to get to know your customers better.


Cerf, M. and Garcia-Garcia, M. Consumer Neuroscience (2017). MIT Press.

Mitzer, A. Berkeley Economic Review. Paying Attention: The Attention Economy (2020).

Sternberg, R.J. Cognitive Psychology (1996). 2nd Edition. Yale University.


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