How Advertisers Can Combat Decreasing Attention Spans

(If you know you have a short attention span, spike to paragraph five.)

Let’s start with a little hypothetical. It’s the year 2000, music videos are still a form of entertainment and we’re watching TV. As OutKast’s Hey Ya fades to black, Eminem’s iconic The Real Slim Shady begins with its epic opening intro, “May I have your attention please? May I have your attention please? Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?” 

Now while I can’t answer whether or not Slim did stand up, we can answer the first and repeated questions, we are in fact paying attention. Ten seconds in the year 2000 was not too much to ask. 

Today this may not be the case. Ten seconds is a lot to ask of an individual, which in turn makes marketing’s golden goal of leaving a lasting impression all that more difficult. The average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds, so we just made the cut, Slim. According to Time Magazine in 2015 the human attention span became even shorter, falling to 8 seconds, which is lower than a Goldfish. Apologies to the inspirational Ted Lasso, but being a goldfish is not how we want to spend every waking moment. Studies are showing that Gen Z’s has fallen to 2.8 seconds.

This presents a major problem for advertisers, brands and humanity as a whole, but in this article we’re only going to focus on the first two. Advertising platform’s influence, specifically on younger generations, is dropping off at rapid rates according to Statista. So what can advertisers do to connect in under 8 seconds? It’s great that a target audience saw the ad, and the CPM is above industry standard, but it’s meaningless if it’s forgotten. 

All of the above ramblings set the scene for this statement: we need to design our ads, specifically video spots, for shorter attention spans. 

Shoot Shorter Content 

The easiest place to start is the length of videos. Start shooting six second spots along with 15s, 30s and 60s for digital video ads. These quicker than a speeding bullet ads are just enough time to highlight a logo, include a call to action or value proposition and if done correctly, forge a potential connection. Another benefit is that users do not typically enjoy being advertised to, and just by keeping it short and sweet, your brand is getting a dopamine release by viewers when it ends before they expected. Plus, the likelihood of them watching the entire ad increases as the ad gets shorter. 

Six second spots should no longer be considered shorts, these are now standard, expected ads. Production shoots are long days with tiresome preparations and endless shot lists and I’m saying to prioritize just six seconds at a time?! YES!  

Shoot MORE Content 

This should come as no surprise but seeing the same thing over and over again, even if it is under ten seconds becomes white noise. Campaigns should have a mix of different assets, ideally building a story where the answer is the product or service being advertised. Six seconds is not a lot on its own, but five six second spots going from point A to point Z creates a natural connection for potential consumers. 

These shorter spots should also be seen as invitations to watch longer form content. Tease the hook so that when a longer ad comes into rotation the viewers expect to see the story progress or conclude. There’s a reason TV shows end seasons with cliffhangers, they make you want more. Your ads should make viewers want more! 

Be sure to take into account where you’re placing the ads. How we speak to users through YouTube bumper ads should be different from how we talk to them on Social Media.

Own the whole Six Seconds

How do chefs impress? They do more with less. Having a limited box and pushing it to the limits of what is possible leaves a lasting impression. If 30 second video ads are an interview, six second spots are the elevator pitch. Be edgy, but also realize that because of the limited duration, you can’t do everything. If it’s a CTA video, don’t try to force product teasers. If it’s about brand awareness, don’t push specific products. 

The Foundation Already Exists

If you want to use today’s magic words (letters?), “AI,” it’s worth noting that shorter ads work really well on programmatic networks. TikTok, Instagram and Facebook already prioritize shorter content, leading to more engagement. In the end, these shorter ads tend to have a lower CPM and can achieve a larger reach with a higher ad recall. Brands are already testing and seeing great success with these units. The time to jump on the train was yesterday, but today is good too. 

The days get longer, our attention span gets shorter, and so our ads need to get smarter. We’re advertisers, we are not going to change people’s attention spans, all we can do is adjust to them.

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