Laws of Marketing Power: Court Attention at All Costs

“Do anything to make yourself seem larger than life and shine more brightly than those around you.”

–Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

eye attentionAttention is a scarce resource. In fact, psychology writer Maria Konnikova argues in her book—Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmesthat attention and awareness are vital to cultivating powerful mental habits. Paying careful attention is the key to perceiving and understanding, with focus and mindfulness as its most important elements.

Given the countless distractions of today’s always-on information age, attention is harder to get than ever. Therefore, the imperative of capturing and holding people’s attention is stronger than ever. Marketers have always known about the need for notoriety. From 19th-century carnival barkers and newsboys to email subject lines and Facebook ads, the centrality of attention to marketing is timeless.

Let’s apply Greene’s Law 6—Court attention at all costs—to Web usability. Users often won’t see things right on their screens if they’re outside their focus of interest (thank you, selective attention). In fact, a website that loads faster than its close competitors by an eye blink will get more frequent repeat traffic (from users who aren’t even aware of the difference). Additionally, users report giving website pages 5 seconds or fewer to load before they decide to bounce.

Greene writes of P.T. Barnum putting up a big banner reading Free Music for the Millions on the same street where his museum was located. He would deliberately hire a bad band to play on a balcony to the “millions.” No sooner would crowds flock to the free concert than they would flee to his museum upon hearing the awful noise from the band. The entire idea was do anything to get people through his museum’s turnstiles.

Ironically, Internet users tend to ignore banner ads, despite their 3-D power in the real world from Barnum’s time to the present. Also, if your Web content merely looks promotional, even if it actually contains the answer to a user’s question, it will be ignored. Marketers who want conversions understand that getting and keeping user attention leads to profitability. Consider that Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information “above the page fold” and only 20% of their attention below the fold, despite propensity to scroll.

Without attention, you have nothing. If a message falls on deaf ears, did it ever make a sound? P.T. Barnum and usability studies alike would both say “No.”


This post is part of a series in which I explore in-depth how some of Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power relate to marketing.


Photo courtesy of Juliana Coutinho via Flickr.

Paul Richlovsky

About Paul Richlovsky

Paul purposefully merges a creative writing and teaching background with his decade-long marketing career. He advises clients on content strategy, editorial direction and PR/distribution. He is a perpetual critical thinker who has written/edited hundreds of blog posts and multiple long-form marketing guides, including those aimed at audiences as varied as healthcare, higher education, financial services, B2C brands and manufacturing. With a BA in English from the College of Wooster, he is also the author of a collection of poetry, "Under the Lunar Neon."He gets really excited about the science of elite performance, usability, brand voice, headlines, digital governance, ballroom dancing, bachata, racquet sports, and romping with his niece and nephews.

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