There is a passage in the book that covers the scarcity of our attention and I especially liked the quote by a Nobel prize winner Herbert A. Simon who once said: “…a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention …”. The human mind can only process a limited pieces of information and we are constantly unable to focus on more than a few things at the same time.

I’ve started reading The Smarter Screen, written by behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi, as a blogger who covers product placement in the movies and TV shows. However I soon realized that the book works better if I forget about product placement and start reading it as a head of digital marketing, which is my current occupation. I found several very interesting and useful topics that I could apply to my work.

The Smarter Screen by Shlomo Benartzi
The Smarter Screen by Shlomo Benartzi

The Smarter Screen is essentially about the use of screens that should make us smarter. Not literally, but screens should be designed in a way that we make better decisions and that they actually improve out lives.

Benartzi uses a lot of cases, examples, studies … that give examples of how a mind works and how can we apply that knowledge to designing online screens. There is however an abundance of information and choices that we must tackle every day and I agree with Benartzi who said that human attention has become the sweet crude oil of the twenty-first century.

Back in 1956 George Miller presented a paper where he insisted that people can remember only about seven pieces of information at any given time. Psychologist Nelson Cowan argued that the true magical number is actually four. What is the outcome of this: in a world overflown with information and because our mind has a limited power of processing, we are consistently forced to choose what to attend to. We can only check four bits of information. And as Benartzi said: the rest is noise. Well, scientists blame inattention blindness for those mental deficits. It occurs whenever the amount of information that goes to our brain exceeds our ability to process it. We just don’t notice things or words.

The Smarter Screen by Shlomo Benartzi
The Smarter Screen by Shlomo Benartzi

The book can be useful to all of us working in digital sphere, but we could apply some findings to product placement as well. Let’s try to narrow them down:

  • more and more people watch movies, TV shows and music videos on small screens where the visibility is lower than in cinema or on TV screen
  • human attention is low and we can’t process all information
  • we can only remember a finite (and small) number of things
  • there are some display biases, e.g. the items that are in the center of the screen have much higher visibility
  • personalization is a really powerful tool.

But how can we apply those findings to product placement? Some issues are quite easy to take into account, for example the number of placements in a movie, TV show or music video. People just can’t remember unnecessary details and sometimes it’s better not to pursue some deals. Brands and products that appear on the screen for a fraction of a second won’t provide the desired impact – viewers won’t notice them or they will forget about them.

The Smarter Screen, Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior by Shlomo Benartzi with Jonah Lehrer is available on The Smarter Screen or The Smarter Screen.