In the last 25 years, what cost has risen the most substantially for American businesses? It isn’t the cost of health care, taxes, or even executive pay that is the problem. It’s advertising, or more accurately, the expense of capturing consumer attention, which has increased seven to nine times in real terms since 1990, according to my calculations.
Prices rise when demand exceeds supply. With the explosion of new brands and products (remember when there was only one variation of Oreo? ), marketers’ demand for consumers’ attention has risen substantially in recent years. The supply of attention, on the other hand, can (for the most part) only increase in tandem with population expansion. Consumers, on the other hand, have been given a variety of tools to avoid paying attention to commercials, such as DVRs, ad blockers, and mobile devices that allow them to redirect their focus to the content of their choice.
It’s a safe bet that major companies’ ad-to-sales ratios have risen in lockstep over the same time period, and the rising cost of capturing consumer attention has driven smaller companies with limited resources to abandon mass media advertising entirely, preferring instead to inform customers about new products through promotions, discounts, and giveaways.
Companies need to know the best strategies for gaining and holding consumer attention in this fiercely competitive environment. According to my research, there is no one-size-fits-all method; what matters most is adapting adverts to the right situation. On the plus side, regardless of brand or product, the amount of attention that customers are likely to pay to advertisements is very predictable.
People in the cinema, for example, pay close attention to advertisements and trailers. Media multitaskers, on the other hand, such as those who watch TV while holding a computer in their lap, tend to pay less attention. They pay much less attention if they are young and have a cell phone by their side. As a result, the optimal ad content is determined by the environment in which viewers will be exposed to the commercials, as well as the expected level of attention they will provide.
Let’s take a closer look
1. When you have a captive audience
Engage and convince are two goals for advertising material. Ads have traditionally spent more time doing the latter — in the pre-internet era, TV advertisements were the primary source of information about new products or brands, so people were willing to pay attention to commercial video or informational content for longer periods of time here. That is no longer the case, because of the widespread availability of on-demand information; today’s consumers will pay far greater attention to content tailored to entertain them. This is true for both B2B and B2C audiences.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Consider a movie theatre, where patrons are largely confined. They sit in a dimly lit room since leaving is inconvenient, and they are unlikely to have access to other information (though even this is changing as norms against smartphone use in cinemas deteriorate). In this context, advertisers can anticipate that their audience pays complete interest until they give up of the economic — which will cognizance on persuasion and spend more of the ad time imparting product information.
2. When your audience begins to pay attention to you
People who watch television, unlike moviegoers, have a plethora of options. They have the ability to change the station, pick up their phone, wander into the kitchen for a snack, or even pause and fast-forward during commercials. In an internet experiment, I showed participants a subset of 88 video advertising for various food and beverage goods and told them they may skip any ad they wanted. I recorded the expressions of the participants. I was able to assess the time and amount of emotional involvement each ad evoked by using an algorithm to measure their facial expression. I next invited research participants to buy a candy bar, and I was able to link their purchasing decisions to how fiercely each commercial drew their attention.
3. When your audience does not pay attention at first
It’s a truth in advertising that excellent television commercials capture the attention of their viewers in the first five seconds. When television is on in the background during the typically busy “early evening” time slots, when younger audiences make up the bulk of viewers (they are inveterate multitaskers), or when your advertisement will play in the middle of a “pod” of commercials, you must capture their attention throughout the ad. That is exactly what this Target Australia campaign accomplished.
4. When your audience is utterly oblivious to what you’re saying
There are times when an audience’s attention is so fragmented that attempting to grab it is a fool’s errand. Only already powerful companies have a chance of leaving an impression in such a noisy environment, and it will most likely be a weak one. Display advertising in Times Square in Manhattan is a classic example. However, there may be a solution – viral advertising, but not in the traditional sense.
Few product categories have as many adverts missed as batteries. People simply aren’t interested in something many regards as a commodity. Duracell, on the other hand, managed to turn a battery commercial into a viral sensation, with nearly 16 million views on YouTube alone (12 million in just two weeks).
Duracell placed the Jorgeson ad in the hands of mountain climbers and outdoor enthusiasts as a method to enlist their support in spreading the film to their friends and following. Climbing has a rich culture and reliable sources of knowledge. If one of these influencers sends you a video, odds are you’ll be more willing to sit through the entire 90 seconds, even if you see a Duracell brand around a third of the way through.
Before advertising can achieve anything else, it must first draw attention. Because people’s attention spans are shorter and more brands fight for attention, this process is far more difficult and costly than in the past. Marketers today must think in terms of a two-step process: Entertain individuals to get their attention; then, by offering relevant information, switch to your advertising needs.