How to Get Attention These Days

Last year, for one of my college classes (Analyzing Style), I had to read The Economics of Attention by Richard A. Lanham. The main thesis of the book stated that we are no longer living in the Information Age. There is no longer a great need for information because it’s all out there already. We have the Internet. We have Google. Nearly any bit of information we could possibly need is right there, waiting for us to find it.

Lanham argues that the new age we are living in now should be called the “Attention Economy,” meaning that the informational deluge is overwhelming. How are we supposed to pay attention to all of it and everything? It’s impossible. We just can’t do it.

In order to succeed in the Attention Economy, marketers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, writers, you name it, obviously have to attract and hold people’s attention. But exactly how can you get attention in this sea of information? How can your product, your business, or your book stand out?

According to Lanham, artists like Lady Gaga have done it right. Love her or hate her, she’s successful because she knows precisely what to do to get attention—that scarce commodity. The woman wore a meat dress, for heaven’s sake. You know her name, whether you listen to her music or not. That’s the power of the attention she’s commanded.

Andy Warhol is similar. He was an attention economist of the highest degree. As with Lady Gaga, whether you like Warhol or not, you know his name and you know his work.

When Rebecca Black hit the Internet with her music video for “Friday,” I started thinking about the Attention Economy once again. Nearly everyone agrees that Rebecca Black is not a good musician. She didn’t write her own music or lyrics. She didn’t produce her own music video. The entire production was a vanity project bought by her mother. Of course, Rebecca is only 13, and she had no idea that her video would catapult to the heights of popularity that it did. But she definitely got attention—even thought it’s not necessarily positive attention.

One would argue that none of these attention-getting stunts are particularly meaningful. Lanham notes in his book that getting attention is based on not creating the most meaningful content, but on creating the most wild, crazy, and even outrageously bad content. Of course, meaning is all subjective, but Lanham argues that to get people’s attention nowadays, you must be concerned with being the most outrageous, whether there’s any lasting substance to your scheme or not.

Thoughts? 🙂

18 thoughts on “How to Get Attention These Days

  1. These days outrageous does get you noticed. But sometimes that notoriety doesn’t last long (unless you keep it coming). While that is a good way to get yourself noticed rather quickly, I know I wouldn’t want to be remembered for some crazy outfit I wore or trouble I caused. Personally, I’d much rather climb my way out into the light by my own two hands and find a more lasting way to stay in people’s minds. That doesn’t mean I’m against outrageous, especially if your music, or whatever it may be, still stands out against the dramatics. If you can find a way to get there and stay there, more power to you.


    1. That is true. But unfortunately, what people remember most is the craziness and outrageousness. The good news is that not everyone has to resort to craziness to get attention. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it in the end. 🙂


  2. The TV and the internet have accelerated the process, but they didn’t create this type of celebrity:

    Andy Warhol is a great example to use. He created and promoted celebrities (the word “superstar” comes from Ingrid Superstar, one of his actresses), and he also created some great art, too. Chelsea Girls remains one of my favorite movies of all time (don’t bother to search for it, it’s not on DVD and really couldn’t be). When I saw Exit Through the Gift Shop, all I could think was how much of the art looked like imitations of Warhol’s paintings.

    And, of course, he said, “In the future, everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes,” which has proved to be true in ways that I’m pretty sure even he couldn’t have imagine.


    1. Ah, yes. The “fifteen minutes of fame.” Although sometimes, it’s a lot more than fifteen minutes… Thanks, Anthony!


  3. This post is just so right. I can’t emphasise more on how right you are. 😛 Even though she did nothing, Rebecca Black sung(or let her voice be auto-tuned) the best song. Ever.


  4. Lady Gaga did NOT get my attention. I could walk right past her on the street without knowing it. Same with the 13 year old kid ~ Rebecca.

    I have no idea who they are or what they sound like on stage. And . . . that doesn’t concern me in the least.

    My time is too valuable to keep track of the flavor of the month club. If they stick around as long as the Beatles, I’ll eventually get a sense of who they are and what they do.

    If not, no biggie. 😀


    1. I think one of Lanham’s other points in the book was something along the lines of what is meaningful to us and whether or not there is a sense of pure truth or pure meaning in the world anymore. As you said, time will tell if there is any “universal” meaning to all this attention-getting stuff or if it’s only just a “flash in the pan.” Thanks, Nancy!


    2. To me, there is a big difference between attention getters (like the guy in Ft. Collins who pretended his kid floated off in the weather balloon) and being a trend setter ~ making lasting change.

      Sadly, there are far too many nut jobs who just want to scream, “Look at me! Look at me!” and far too few people actually changing the course of history for the better.


      1. I believe it’s the little things, one by one, that change the course of history – for good or for bad – not necessarily the big things, the trend-setters, or attention-getters. But there is no denying that the attention-getters can distract us with their screaming egos… also for good or for bad.


  5. I’m with Nancy here. Rebecca who? Attention and meaning aren’t the same thing. Years from now, these borderline personalities will have been forgotten, if only because of the noise from that generation’s own group of nothings.


  6. Negative publicity works faster these days, and all are after it. Craving for publicity, longing to make people say something (good or bad) about them- that is the trend. Good observations!


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