Does anyone still pay attention to ads and commercials?

Part 1: The situation--how audience attention has changed.

Remember when audiences paid rapt attention to commercials?

Neither do we, but we have it on good authority that somewhere in the distant mists of history – from the golden age of radio in the 1930s to the early era of TV in the 1950s – they did.

In 1935 families would gather around a radio – which was then a wooden box almost the size of a refrigerator – and listen intently to "Major Bowes and His Original Amateur Hour." They listened just as intently to the commercials for Chase and Sanborn coffee.

That unflagging concentration carried over into the early television era. In the 1950s, families would gather around the new big, wooden box mesmerized by "The Original Amateur Hour" in its TV reincarnation with Ted Mack as host. And no one's fascination with the fuzzy picture and scratchy sound wavered as a pack of Old Gold cigarettes danced across the screen.

In those thrilling days of yesteryear the audience's attention was a given. Everyone tuned into a show would hear every word of a radio commercial and watch every single one of the sixty seconds that made up TV spots back then.

Sounds like marketing heaven, doesn't it?

All the ad agency had to do was decide what appeal would be most persuasive to the captive – and captivated – audience, then deliver it in a form that would be remembered days later, when audience members walked into a store and became purchasers.

By the 1960s, television was less of a novelty. Families still ate things called "TV dinners" on little folding tables called "TV trays" in front of that big wooden box in the living room. By then, however, the novelty had begun to wear off. The flickering image was no longer as hypnotic as it used to be.

Creative teams poured over Burke day-after recall data for attention-grabbing tricks to keep viewers riveted to the set for the crucial first three seconds of a spot, the little sliver of time in which audience members chose between watching the commercial, taking a bio-break or making a run to the refrigerator.

Two of the most venerable of those tricks:

Want to hook men? Open with a shot of a dog barking. (Yes, the Burke data showed that a dog got more male attention than a hottie. Of course the amount of hotness permitted on TV back then was pretty minimal.)

Want to hook women? Open with a shot of a baby gurgling or crying.

It's not that simple any more.