Attention lust and Olympic craziness

For many organizations and individuals, attention is the most precious resource. The pursuit of attention for our ads, or our city or our careers dominates all else.

How else to explain the silly math that is used to justify Olympic hoopla? Can imagine how little patience people would have for the IOC and their internal politics if they didn't have a show that so many people wanted to watch?

Almost every city that has hosted an Olympics regrets it financially. The TV networks spend billions. The advertisers pay for it. The hoopla is vast and loud.

For what?

For the attention. It's the attention that gets cities to put up with the ridiculous system for choosing host cities and gets the TV networks to ship camera crews half way around the world. It's the attention that turns the Olympic committee into vigilant trademark and copyright police. It's easy to cut countries or companies willing to bankrupt themselves for pride or attention a little slack. After all, the Olympics is a magical event.

Except it's not. The same craving for attention happens every day in every organization in search of just one more pair of eyeballs. As marketers discover that more eyeballs does not equal better, the quixotic quest for attention will start to abate.

The formula is simple but depressing: marketers have been lousy at harvesting attention because there was just so much of it. So it was more like strip mining than careful, efficient use of a natural resource. Now that attention is harder to get, people are overpaying for it and the Olympics is just one example. The alternative is to create focused, intense networks that ignore the masses. For most marketers, that's exactly what we need.