The Fight For Consumer Attention

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 20, 2020
I’ve been thinking about attention — or rather, the deficit of attention — facing brand marketing today. It used to be simple: Television was king, and commercials had the luxury of 30 or 60 seconds to share a creative message.

This is far from the reality of today’s current market. With more channels and content available to us than ever before, the marketing landscape is impossible to pin down. With the exception of a handful of monoculture events like the Super Bowl, the golden age of advertising is long gone and the commercial has been all but declared dead.

As viewership moves away from traditional television and into more and more fragmented channels, marketers have to ensure they are spending budget efficiently and on channels where they know their audience is. Complicating matters is the fact that many of us are no longer tuned into just one source of entertainment at a time. As early as 2017, 70% of U.S. adults were “second-screening” while watching TV. By 2018, Nielsen reported that 45% of consumers were engaging in this behavior “very often” or “always.” In fact, a recent report published by Activate Consulting found that multitasking has effectively led to a 31.5 hour day for the average U.S. adult.



With all these channels and new consumption behaviors to contemplate, how can brands continue capturing attention? First and foremost, brands need to get fast with their messaging. Neuroscience research done by consumer goods conglomerate Mars found that marketers have about two seconds to grab consumers' focus in digital channels. Two seconds, that’s it.

Fortunately, younger consumers with shorter attention spans appear to be able to process advertising content quickly and retain messaging even with very short exposure to content. A study conducted by Kantar and Snap showed that “more than half (55%) of Gen-Zers who watched a skippable ad for less than two seconds correctly remembered it, compared with 46% for millennials and 26% for Gen-Xers and baby boomers.”

This is good news for marketers worried that the short-form ad landscape doesn’t allow enough time to make an impact.  Catching that first moment of interest is the new challenge.

The Mars study suggests that rigorous testing can help teams determine the most effective ways to edit and present their ads to ensure the first few seconds are attention-worthy. Others caution that testing, surveys, and focus groups can lead to unnatural viewing environments and result in biased findings.

Brands that want to bolster their chances of success in securing attention beyond testing should also consider auditing the viewability and placement of their ads to ensure they have the best chance of being seen. Additionally, new AI-enabled technologies like facial recognition can be explored to understand genuine consumer reactions to marketing in natural at-home environments.

Lastly, I would encourage brands to seek out new marketing opportunities that build on the typical video, digital and social assets we have become accustomed to seeing. The landscape is ever-changing and there are opportunities emerging to develop your brand and drive attention.

Just look at the earned media Ocean Spray was able to generate from a TikToker, or the Container Store’s new approach to content sponsorship by partnering with the Netflix show “Get Organized with the Home Edit.”  

Attention is earned through creativity. It’s the marketer’s job not only to craft impactful messaging and storytelling, but to identify untapped opportunities while they are available.

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