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Attention spans are evolving, and by that I mean they’re shrinking. 

Halfway through writing that sentence my phone dinged and I saw a tweet pop up that looked quite interesting.

15 minutes of internet rabbit hole-diving later and I remembered I was supposed to be writing a sentence.  

I’m not alone in this, and one of the talks at our Creative Programmatic event last week that particularly interested me was from Innovid’s Tal Chalozin, who was there to discuss how video advertisers can cater for the modern-day online attention span. 

He argues:

If you want to watch Downton Abbey on TV you might sit through an ad you don’t care about. But online this has changed. 

You have to reward attention, offer something in return for watching an ad.

While I disagree slightly with the first part of that point – most people are nose-to-phone during TV ads – I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that brands must reward rather than demand users’ attention online. 

With so much content to choose from, the latter simply will not work. 

Multiple distractions

As I mentioned above, most people tend to split their attention between two or more screens, i.e. browsing with their mobile during TV ad breaks. 

Chalozin puts a figure on it, citing a study that found 48% of people are distracted while watching TV, and that of that 48%, 23% can’t recall what was on the TV at all. And for millennials the figures are much higher.  

Other studies have found the distraction figure to be higher still. One report from BT TV claims that 78% of Brits multitask while watching TV. 

Either way the net result is the same: brands need far more impressions than before to reach the same TV audience.

A million TV viewers now is not the same as a million TV viewers in the days before mobile took off. 

Tal Chalozin

Tal Chalozin at Creative Programmatic 2016

Google and Facebook have already acknowledged and begun to cater for the issue of shortening attention spans, Chalozin says. 


The former launched TrueView, which, in Google’s own words, is 'built on the promise than you’ll only pay when someone chooses to watch your video ad'.

In other words: advertisers don’t have to pay if people skip their ads, which means they know they’re getting viewers’ attention. 

Facebook announced last year that it would be experimenting with charging advertisers only once the viewer had watched 10-seconds of an ad. 

These methods might not be perfect, but they certainly go some way to avoiding brands paying for video ad views that weren’t really views at all. 

What can brands do?

Chalozin believes there are three key things that online video advertisers need to achieve in order to reward users’ attention and be successful: 

  • Produce personal and smart ads.
  • Spark curiosity and encourage participation.
  • Tell a simple story.

Let’s take a look at those in greater detail.

1. Produce personal and smart ads

“It’s all about understanding people and creating a one-to-one relationship,” Chalozin says. 

He argues that people aren’t surprised by personalisation these days because we all freely give our data to brands

4OD’s 2014 Share a Coke campaign is one example he cited. 

Users would see a five-second clip of a Coke bottle personalised with their own name, enough to grab their attention, after which a short Coca-Cola ad would play. 

2. Spark curiosity and encourage participation

Making people curious enough to interact with your video ad is the key to winning the battle of attention, Chalozin argues. 

He mentioned the launch of Daredevil on Netflix: an interactive video that made users feel like they were in a computer game and enabled them to interact using their mouse or finger and open up other videos within the main content. 

(Click twice on the YouTube banner at the top):

Daredevil interactive video ad on Netflix

Overall there was 7.5 minutes of content within the ad, but all within an initial 30-second clip that enticed people to interact with it. 

3. Tell a simple story

“Simple works better,” Chalozin says. “Marketers have been good at storytelling for years, but with digital you can do so much more.”

He says the key is to bridge the gap between data and creativity. The former should help drive the latter. 

Chalozin cited a US wine brand that broke a story down into four 30-second video ads.

Each time a user came across the ad online they would see the next episode, and at the end of an ad they’re offered a button that, when clicked, lets them see the rest of the story unfold.

I wrote a post about Shield 5 and the opportunities for social cinema the other day, which covers the same premise: how brands can use a video series to keep people hooked on a story.

Conclusion: personalised, engaging, simple

This might not be news to many marketers’ ears but it helps to reinforce this straightforward point when it comes to online video ads. 

With the amount of data readily available to marketers there is no excuse not to personalise. And if the ads aren’t simple and engaging you will likely lose your audience before you’ve even acquired them. 

Ultimately it pays to think hard about how you personally respond to video ads online. 

Honestly, how often do you really stop to pay attention to one? And when you do, what made you stop? It’s likely the ad ticked all three of the above boxes.

As Chalozin puts it:

In seconds I need to get the user’s attention and make them feel a product is important to them.

Jack Simpson

Published 8 March, 2016 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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