MAD//Fest is fast approaching, but the prospects of the UK economy entering a recession are approaching even faster. Every day, we’re hearing doom-laden talk of a cost of living crisis, inflation spiraling out of control and interest rates rising.

Let’s not cash in our chips just yet, as it’s not all bad. Firstly, the gap between interest rates and inflation is widening, making the relative cost of financing debt even cheaper. That’s helpful. Second, we’ve seen from the pandemic the ability for capitalism to bounce back, and do so fast. Third, when we measure the economy using this antiquated metric called GDP, we often overlook the tech advancements that will dominate MAD//Fest. Consider Wikipedia: the sum of all the world’s knowledge, does no environmental damage yet adds nothing to GDP. (MAD//Fest attendees can think of many things that do the exact opposite). 

As I’ve long-argued; what matters most is measured least. 

There is, however, another recession that is looming and it has less to do with measuring the output of factories and more to do with the constraint on our time. When Netflix announced a subscriber-miss in April, not only did it wipe off $54bn in market cap, (the biggest one day stock drop ever), but it reminded us that there is a constraint on our time and attention, and when we hit it - something has to give. 

MIDIA, a respected media consultancy, has been pioneering work on an attention recession with an impressive array of reports. Their view: hospitality (going out) will feel the pinch, before subscribers (staying in). Secondly, within media offerings, advertising will be hit harder than subscriptions, as seen with Snap’s earnings miss. Thirdly, we’re now reaching a saturation point on audio and video subscriptions. 

As I explained on the famous Trapital Podcast, buckle up: we’re going from herbivores to carnivores. 

For the past ten years media tech has grown the market with each service growing its garden without damaging the other. Now growth will come from market stealing: where one service’s gain is another’s pain.  That changes everything, and puts those who offer cost-cutting convenience in pole position. MAD//Fest delegates would do well to seek out smoke signals - bundling strategies are smoking hot right now. 

The legendary investor James Barksdale famously quipped, “Gentlemen, there’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.”  When challenged, he explained the logic:  “Well, best I can tell, most people spend half their time adding and other people spend half their time subtracting, so that’s what works out.”

An attention recession will force the pendulum of unbundling to swing back, as Barksdale predicted, in the direction of bundling again. Mike Darcy, a former exec at Sky, lays out an eloquent argument why in his essay How Goes the Revolution? His core challenge to the unbundlers: if we all subscribe to four-or-five video streaming platforms, do we all want to deal with four-or-five customer support teams as well? Or would we rather just have one? 

More smoke signals can be found in Apple’s impressive ‘Apple One’ offering: bundling music, television (available on Google’s Chromecast), games, news, fitness and storage into one $30 monthly family plan. It’s not just the price that’s attractive, nor the way it removes friction in billing, but the option value - the price you pay for things you might not necessarily use. You may not have a specific need for Apple Fitness, but the option is there should you wish to explore it. 

Again, what matters most is being measured least. 

Branding experts attending MADf//Fest this year would do well to focus on ‘option value’ and convenience - propositions that remove friction whilst increasing choices will do well to shore up attention and sail through this recession. Consumers will cut back on things they know they can do without, but will likely perceive value in convenience which cancels out opportunity cost; as well as the availability of options that may not be acted upon yet still offer value.

In an attention recession, the bundle is back. Buckle up, as the next ten years will be nothing like the past. 

Will Page is the author of Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles for Pivoting Through Disruption and former Chief Economist of Spotify, he’ll be speaking at ATTENTION@MAD//Fest. Click here to get your early bird ticket.