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With attention measured in milliseconds, how do you get your message across?

Technology & Data

With attention measured in milliseconds, how do you get your message across?


Handing control over to the the consumer, and a focus on earning – not capturing – their attention are just two ways to combat declining attention spans. By Claire Fenner.

Claire_FennerThere’s a photo doing the rounds on social media of a bottle of bathroom cleaner, which has a message on the label reading: “You are reading this because you forgot your  smartphone when you went to the toilet didn’t you?”

We won’t delve any deeper into people’s habits in the WC, but suffice to say it’s been shared the world over (the product in question is from British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s), because it’s a piece of bang-on observational humour.

A recent study conducted by Dscout found that “People tapped, swiped and clicked a whopping 2,617 times each day, on average”. And heavy users got up more than double that
number, touching their device 5,427 times per day.

It’s not a new insight, yet some marketers continue to live by the old ‘more is more’ attitude – that by showing a consumer a message enough times, eventually it will stick. However, this isn’t working.

A recent report from TrackMaven found that, “Across 2013 and 2014, the output of content per brand increased by 78%, but content engagement decreased by 60%.”

To paraphrase an old cliche: you can lead an audience to content, but you can’t make them engage with it.

As we begin to become immune to the constant flow of advertising messaging we are subject to, and as consumers demand more and more control through ad-blocking and ad-
free content platforms, the real challenge for the advertising industry is how to capture consumer attention.

So, how do you capture attention in a cluttered landscape?


Give control to the consumer

In the future, we could see the digital publishing industry embrace the consumer desire for control. Imagine a model that allows consumers to vote and feedback on advertising in a
single click, giving the ad an ‘attention rating’. With advertising that receives a negative vote being penalised and de-prioritised in the real-time programmatic auction, advertisers would be forced to pay more to secure audiences or adjust their messaging and approach to improve their attention rating.

YouTube was one of the first platforms to give its audience control, with skippable pre-roll where the advertiser only pays when the viewer chooses not to skip the ad. In this model
advertisers are paying for a level of attention. What if we flip this model on its head and charge advertisers when a user skips their ad, penalising them for not capturing the attention
or interest of the audience?

This would force advertisers to strive to create advertising/content that their audience wants to watch, creating a better brand and user experience.

Another model that empowers audiences to eliminate advertising is the subscription streaming services (video and music) such as Netflix, Spotify, Pandora and YouTube Red. The paid subscriptions to these services provide ad-free experiences for their audiences, and eliminate the opportunity for advertisers to access a premium subscriber base.

Suppose these services offered their audience the opportunity to decide which advertising or brands they want to be exposed to and how often they want to be exposed, in return for
reduced subscription costs. By giving the audience this control and choice, they would be far more engaged.


Earn attention, don’t ‘capture’ it

Brands should develop engaging content that seeks to earn attention rather than ‘capture’ it. The reinvention of the airline safety video is the perfect example – airlines recognised that passengers immediately disengaged as soon as the safety announcement commenced at the beginning of their flight. Arguably this content was highly relevant to the audience, but they actively ignored it every time they embarked on a flight.

Over the last decade, airlines like Air New Zealand and Qantas have instead developed engaging and informative content for their in-flight safety videos. They took something that
had become wallpaper and instead delivered content that their passengers not only paid attention to, but chose to share with friends and family. Airlines now have a vehicle that can
communicate their brand to their customers every time they fly. That is the power of the attention economy.


A creative multimedia mix with attribution modelling at its core

While the creation of engaging content that captures attention in non-traditional environments is critical, in a fragmented landscape advertisers also need to focus on achieving the optimal marketing mix. It is now essential to not just be smart about media planning, but also be innovative and creative with your media, making an agile, creative media model the future of the advertising industry.

It’s the old ‘path to purchase’ dilemma: just because someone bought a product on their mobile or desktop, doesn’t mean offline media didn’t have a role to play in influencing the
purchase. As much was shown in The IAB’s ‘Cross-Media Ad Effectiveness Study’ from earlier this year. One key finding worth noting was that, while digital on its own can work for
some metrics, “combined with other media it is a critical part of the mix and can be used to reinforce messages seen offline”.

In short, with real-time data now available, your mix needs to be flexible – if something isn’t working, dial it back. If something is getting serious cut-through, hammer it home. In other words, develop an adaptive attribution model that you can constantly tweak. Attention spans are getting shorter – it may be frustrating, but there’s no fighting it. So embrace it.


Claire Fenner is group general manager at Atomic 212.



Image copyright: janaka © 123RF


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