The best books on how valuable your attention is

Who am I?

I spent my career working with attention, in advertising agencies in London, Sydney, and New York before starting my own creative consultancy in 2013. We consult with brands, agencies, and media companies all over the world and so have an unusually broad purview of the attention-industrial complex. I have a master’s degree from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, in English Literature and Critical Theory, and won the President’s Prize for my thesis on the future of advertising for the Institute of Practitioner’s of Advertising (IPA) Excellence Diploma. I speak on stages at events all over the world, where I’m extremely conscious of the need to hold the audience’s attention.

I wrote...

Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World

By Faris Yakob,

Book cover of Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World

What is my book about?

Navigate the cluttered advertising attention marketplace with this bestselling guide to contemporary advertising ideas and models for marketing innovation.

Paid Attention delivers new and innovative insights into advertising ideas: what they are, why they are evolving, and how to use them in day-to-day strategy within a changing digital landscape. This second edition includes two new chapters exploring the latest evidence about attention spans and trends in online advertising, as well as new case studies on compelling brand ideas. In a world where being a consumer is confusing, learn to take control of the situation and make yourself heard in today's crowded attention marketplace.

The books I picked & why

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Ways of Seeing

By John Berger,

Book cover of Ways of Seeing

Why this book?

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.” Ways Of Seeing is an absolutely seminal required read for anyone living today, immersed in a culture made of media. It was published in 1972, appropriately based on a television series since it is about how different forms of representation - and how we look at them - impacts how we think and how culture operates. Whilst it draws on critical theory it was written to be approachable and indeed went on to influence a whole new era in thinking about images in culture, power dynamics, and the male gaze. My mate Paul lent me his copy years ago and I never gave it back. Thanks Paul, and sorry.


By Rian Hughes,

Book cover of XX

Why this book?

This was my favorite book from the last year. It’s breathtaking in its ambition, narratively, conceptually, and in media terms. The author has a sideline as a very respected graphic designer and various parts of the book collapse form and function, turning words into graphic art into literature. At the heart, it’s a science fiction novel of ideas, a story about stories and how they create the world. Ideas can be helpful or harmful but the only thing that makes them successful is how well they continue to replicate. This is one of my favorite kinds of novel, crafting philosophy from a truly imaginative story that rolls along like a thriller.

The Attention Merchants

By Tim Wu,

Book cover of The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

Why this book?

A companion piece to my book, I flatter myself to think. Tim Wu charts the rise of the attention economy to its current place at the heart of modern capitalism. Attention merchants - industrial-scale harvesters of human attention - have invaded every tiny moment of the day in order to sell that attention and data to advertisers. As more and more of our day has been consumed by media consumption, culture and politics have adapted as the arms race for attention escalates. Both broad and deep, it looks at our attention-seeking culture from the removal of an academic and considers the impact on society and culture when the very stuff of human experience is considered a commodity.

How to Do Nothing

By Jenny Odell,

Book cover of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

Why this book?

Our attention is a precious - and overdrawn - resource. This counterpoint to the appeal of attention economics helped me think about how to allocate my attention with intention. Partly self-help guide, part political manifesto, Jenny rails against the hustle culture of modern capitalism and provides a way of thinking beyond productivity, efficiency, and the supremacy of technology. As advertisers and media companies continue to find new and better ways to harvest attention it behooves us to consider what we want to do ours, and remind corporations that it is a rare and valuable thing. What you pay attention to is ultimately what your life will be.

Murder Must Advertise

By Dorothy L. Sayers,

Book cover of Murder Must Advertise: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery

Why this book?

In this delightful romp of a murder mystery, Lord Peter Wimsey must pose as a new copywriter at a storied, and very posh, advertising agency in London to solve a murder and drug smuggling ring and gets into all kinds of hijinks. It’s a lovely period piece, full of the class boundaries of the English of the era, it's a cross between Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. The descriptions and observations of an agency decades before television, staffed entirely by posh men and the tension between departments and clients are depressingly familiar and hilarious at the same time. It’s a minutely well-observed and very entertaining look at the inside of the industry that only exists to attract and leverage your attention.

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