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How to Market to the Shrinking Attention Span

Posted on by Brittany Fleit, Marketing Lead

If marketing wants to keep up with the shrinking attention span, it needs to adapt or die.

Statistic Brain released a report in 2013 that cites the average human attention span as eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. To put that in perspective, a goldfish’s attention span clocks in at nine seconds.

Goldfish attention span

Source: Flickr, user: Lachlan Donald

Commercials have picked up on this and evolved into shorter formats. Decades ago they were a full minute, in our recent past they were 30 seconds and currently they top off at 15 seconds. Advertisers have realized that viewers soak up information quickly during shorter commercials and turn their brains off when exposed to longer content. The same message can actually be relayed in a shorter duration, for less cost.

Marketing doesn’t end with television, however. According to another study, the shrinking attention span has also led to increased restlessness between gadgets, with users switching between smartphones, tablets and laptops up to 21 times per hour. In this multiscreen economy, users spend on average 147 minutes per day on their smartphones (compared to 113 minutes per day watching TV).

A few mobile marketers have used this knowledge to rocket to marketing success. Vine built a platform around six-second video posts and YouTube incorporated a “skip ad” option after five seconds. Any more than that, and both companies know viewers will lose interest (and in the case of YouTube ads, become annoyed).

“Nearly a fifth of viewers clicked out of a

video in the first ten seconds.

Yet 15-30 second video ads are still the majority. That’s roughly two to four times as long as the attention span. The New York Times cites a study on “viewer abandonment,” in which nearly a fifth of viewers clicked out of a video in the first ten seconds. This became more pronounced with videos that were slow to reach the punchline, causing the rate of viewers to click out to double. Advertisers must ask themselves: If viewers aren’t paying attention, is it worth paying for the ad?

Part of the problem is that advertisers try to relay complex, 30+ second messages of brand humanization into an eight second slot, as they do with commercials. Videos ads must be short, simple and relevant, lest they risk losing viewership. If a user wins a level on a mobile game, they shouldn’t be subjected to a 30-second ad about an irrelevant product. They should be rewarded for their loyalty to the game with an advertisement of similar interest.

A better solution for the modern attention span

Videos aren’t the only way to command audience attention. Today’s marketing is about instant gratification and appealing to users’ deepest desires. The rules require advertisers to keep content short, focus on images and craft headlines that say it all. Rich media, like GIFs that play on a continuous loop, can capture attention effectively without the viewer deeming it takes up too much time. Movement catches the eye as effectively as video, but users have don’t wait for the content to finish before determining if it’s relevant.

Effective, short attention span-approved ads could look like this: 


This is a moment-based reward that offers value users don’t want to skip past. Rewards come during “achivement moments” when users feel an influx of positive emotion, like when they’ve beat a level in a mobile game. Since these moments come during natural pauses in the app play, rewards don’t disrupt the experience, but come as a welcome surprise. Moreover, rewards are always relevant to the app. Some examples include in-app currency sponsored by a brand and tangible products that may be redeemed via email. They align with the short attention span, giving users what they want instantly.

During a time when attention spans are more divided than ever, there are more creative ways to engage users on mobile. It’s time to give them what they want.

Want to learn more? Follow Kiip on Twitter to hear about our latest advertising discoveries.

Tagged marketing, rewards, smartphones, video ads, Advertising, advertising, attention span, brands

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