The Attention Merchants Book Summary By Tim Wu

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The Attention Merchants is a book that dives into the field of advertising and the history behind it.

In this detailed account, readers will learn all about the “attention industry” and how it has evolved over time to become what it is now.

The authors provide an extensive look at the how and why of modern advertising, giving readers an in-depth understanding of what has brought us to this point.

This book offers an informative and insightful take on the traditional advertising world, making for a stimulating read.

The Attention Merchants Book

Book Name: The Attention Merchants (The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads)

Author(s): Tim Wu

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 16 Minutes

Categories: Marketing & Sales

Author Bio

The Attention Merchants book was written by Tim Wu, a highly respected policy advocate, law professor and frequent contributor to

Professor Wu has a vast amount of experience and knowledge in the field, as he served as the head of Columbia University’s Poliak Center at the School of Journalism.

He is also the author of The Master Switch, another great book on communication and technology.

All this makes him more than qualified to have penned The Attention Merchants!

Dive Into The Fascinating World Of Advertising And Branding And Discover How Advertisers Get Us Hooked

World Of Advertising

Attention Merchants examines the history of monetized attention, with the ultimate goal of getting people to pay attention to their ads.

The book provides an in-depth look into how advertisers have used various tactics over the years to get our attention – from the days of cigar-smoking and cocktail-drinking ad men to modern day social media and celeb endorsements.

It also explores why certain products or services are successful in capturing our attention, from clever branding techniques to making use of our natural tendencies towards being starstruck.

All of these strategies have worked together to build a multi-billion dollar industry around capturing our attentions and making us buy into their products.

How Benjamin Day Pioneered Award-Winning Advertising Strategy With The New York Sun Newspaper

The idea of newspaper advertisements has been around since the start of the 1800s, but they were only ever informational in nature.

Rather than trying to draw attention with captivating rhetoric and persuasive arguments, these adverts simply imparted helpful facts and listed available job vacancies, similar to classified ads.

However, in 1833, a young journalist and entrepreneur named Benjamin Day revolutionised this model by launching the New York Sun newspaper.

He sold each copy for a penny – a whole five cents lower than many rival papers like The New York Times – and as a result attracted an enormous readership.

Realising he could make even more money from advertisers seeking exposure for their products and services; Day started charging businesses for inclusion in his paper.

Within months, this had become such a success that it brought in larger profits than ever before; within two years, it was number one in New York City!

This proved how newspapers can be used not only to impart knowledge but also to do business through reselling the attention of its audience – something which Benjamin Day pioneered all those years ago!

How Advertising Revolutionized Patent Medicine And Helped Build An Army During Wwi

At the start of the twentieth century, Claude C.

Hopkins revolutionized advertising for commercial medicines and was responsible for the invention of “direct mail” advertising.

Working with Douglas Smith, they marketed Liquozone, a patent medicine that promised to cure almost any ailment you might have.

Hopkins came up with the idea to offer free samples of Liquozone as well, which brought in profits modern-day equivalent to $100 million.

However, attention harvesting was not only used to generate wealth through useless medicine.

During World War I, British forces needed more personnel and so conducted an effective series of state-run propaganda campaigns featuring images on buses, buildings and telephone poles calling citizens to enlist and secure the nation’s survival.

The ploy worked perfectly; by 1915 2.75 million had signed up to fight for Britain in an army of just a few hundred thousand people several years earlier.

How Advertisers Of The 1920s Revolutionized Branding And Engineering Demand

Revolutionized Branding

In the 1920s, advertising and branding became increasingly more methodical.

It was this time that “scientific advertising” entered the public lexicon, referring to a new view of advertising as an entirely calculated practice.

This involved specific approaches designed to capture audiences’ attention – something that was once left to chance no longer had to be.

One particular approach to accomplishing this goal was dubbed demand engineering and involved advertising a problem, usually fabricated, that could then be solved by purchasing a certain product.

A prime example of this concept can be seen in the case of Listerine toothpaste, where an advertisement campaign associated bad breath (halitosis) with unpopularity, leading to a massive spike in demand for their product.

The 1920s also saw brands being engineered in order to develop customer trust and loyalty rather than earning it over the years through hard work and dedication like it’s done now with branding.

One such success story is the copywriter Theodore MacManus who pushed Cadillac cars into the forefront of their market by broadcasting they were “The Penalty of Leadership.” The term alone has since been used as an adjective describing famous quality products today.

From Radio To Television: How A Revolution In Advertising Changed The Way We Consume

The success of advertisers in the twentieth century can be accredited to both radio and television.

With radio, advertisers could reach their audience by sponsoring content like serial programs or orchestral performances that aired regularly.

This was beneficial for sponsors since listeners were able to latch on to a company’s name without any other forms of promotion.

For instance, Pepsodent used this method to recover its place in the market by sponsoring light entertainment shows such as ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’.

This resulted in 40-50 million listeners tuning in every night to catch the show while hearing Pepsodent’s message promoting their toothpaste formula as well.

Later in the 1950s, TV became the main source for grabbing people’s attention which was so effective that it saw an average viewer spending five hours a day just watching!

The number of home televisions rose from 9% in 1950 to 72% in 1956 as it became clear just how great of an impact television had on its audience.

In conclusion, radio and television were both huge mediums for helping advertisers finish off the twentieth century with immense success.

The Power Of Email: How Operant Conditioning Has Turned Emails Into Digital Rewards

The invention of email made it much easier for businesses, marketers and advertisers to reach people and grab their attention.

Before the internet was created, advertisements were limited to broadcast media such as TV and radio.

But with email, all of that changed.

In 1969, Ray Tomlinson at BBN launched a system that allowed people to send messages, not just files.

It didn’t take long for this system take off – by 1973, emails comprised 75 percent of all network traffic.

Emails are especially effective in grabbing our attention because they act like rewards – when we receive an email or digital message, it acts as a reward which encourages us to keep looking for more and refresh our inboxes in hope of finding more rewards.

Because this feels good, many people become addicted to constantly checking their email inboxes for notifications or updates from friends or colleagues.

Advertisers also love email due its ability to grab people’s attention and reach out to them directly and personally in a way other forms of advertising can’t match.

With email marketing campaigns, you can target specific audiences and customize messages easily – making it a very powerful marketing tool indeed!

How Google Pioneered A Revolutionary Advertising Model To Become The Internet’S Leader


When Google was founded in the late 1990s, the internet had become a crowded space and it was increasingly difficult for people to find relevant content.

At that time, accessing content online wasn’t anything like switching channels on TV—there was no guarantee you’d find what you wanted.

That’s why Google’s search engine proved so successful: its powerful algorithm, tight code and simple design allowed users to easily access information.

What the founders of Google didn’t realize at first was that this success offered them a huge opportunity in terms of harvesting attention—but they weren’t sure how they could monetize it.

After some thinking, they came up with Adwords: an advertising tool where companies can only display ads that are relevant to a user’s interests, ensuring that firms don’t ‘buy their way’ to the top of search results.

This type of personalized platform has revolutionized how we access information online—and changed the way companies advertise forever.

Celebrities Capture Our Attention With A Mystique That Is Comparable To Traditional Forms Of Worship

Almost everyone can recognize a famous celebrity without ever having seen them in a movie or on television.

They have a power to capture our attention that no other entity has.

Take People magazine for example, which is dedicated solely to celebrity news and gossip.

When it was first published in 1974, it sold around 1 million copies.

By the 1980s its income had quadrupled and it quickly became the most profitable magazine in the world—costing over $350,000 for one full-page ad!

The incredible draw of celebrities fascinates scholars and academics who wonder what drives them to captivate so much widespread attention.

Many point to traditions of worship found in various parts of the world that describe an experience of transcending the ordinary and getting a peek at something extraordinary or infinite—something similar to how many people reacted to celebrities like Greta Garbo and Valentino, whose death sent shockwaves across the world with some fans even taking their own lives!

It’s clear that there is something special about celebrities that makes us take notice when we spot them in person or see them on television—even if we are not interested in them otherwise.

In short, celebrities truly capture our attention like no other entity.

Wrap Up

In “The Attention Merchants”, author Tim Wu takes a deep dive into the history and evolution of advertising over the past few centuries.

The book provides an informative and fascinating look into the various stages of the business and how it has been shaped by technological advances.

The key message is that advertising has gone through many changes, but throughout these changes its core purpose remains – to capture attention, influence behavior, and earn revenue for companies.

As Wu puts it in his final summary, “Attention merchants have been with us since the first publication – now more than ever.” Therefore, this book serves as an important reminder of how powerful advertising can be and how vital it is to pay attention not only to what ads are telling us, but also to where they come from.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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