J&C Blog

Find all the latest marketing trends on the J&C Blog.

Do I Have Your Attention? I Doubt It...

Posted by Brian Jones on July 27, 2023

We… me… you… all of us have an attention problem.

We don’t know how to focus anymore.iStock-1359088740


That’s not true.

I should say, we don’t know WHAT to focus ON anymore.

Our lives are jam-packed with to-dos, and checklists and meetings, and — of course,  ads.

All kinds of ads. Digital, social, TV, radio, print, outdoor, indoor direct mail…

And for us marketers, solving this attention problem is really the key to improving our ROIs, our campaigns' effectiveness, and our bottom lines.

So how? How do we capture this rarest of commodities – attention?
Maybe the answer lies in what advertising deity Howard Gossage once said — “People don’t read advertising. They read what interests them. And sometimes, that’s advertising.

Ok, that helps.iStock-1156197901

Agreed. We need good, relevant, helpful, and interesting creative — but, we also need a solid understanding of what works on each platform or channel  —  in order to be successful.

For example, understanding that today the popularity of video is pushing people from social platforms to creator-driven entertainment platforms (Instagram, Tik Tok, etc.) and that is creating new opportunities to do some interesting and creative things.

Still, marketers face a few tough challenges. One of the biggest is targeting the right prospects on these newer platforms. Many times marketers see their campaign’s response rates hit a plateau after a certain point. Seems too many of their messages were either not “interesting” enough — or they were seen by people who, although they were indeed in the target market, they simply didn’t have a need for that particular product or service at the time.

For that latter group, you'd still like to get their attention and at least expose them to your brand/product so that when they are in the market, they recall your product and put it in their consideration set.

And therein lies the big challenge...

The attention problem

Karen Nelson-Field’s research on the topic of attention showed that 85% of 130,000 digital ads tested didn’t achieve the 2.5 seconds or more of active attention that’s required to trigger brand recall (amplifiedintelligence.com.au).

Optimize_all_channels-1Ads seen for less than this amount of time may garner a few random clicks. But ads that stay in front of a viewer for more than that amount of time can actually help impact future sales. The more time a reader spends on the ad, the longer it hangs around in their memory and the better chance it has to drive sales.

One other finding from Nelson-Field is that the platform you use has an inherent limit on the amount of attention people will pay to the ads on it. In other words, it’s as much the platform and format as it is the creative itself that determines how much time a reader will spend on an ad.

85% of 130,000 ads did not achieve the minimum 2.5 seconds or more of active attention

So the platform and format choice impacts the potential range of attention your ads can receive. But will adding “interesting creative" (as Gossage says) give you better results? Well, maybe. Interesting and creative ads can get you slightly more attention on a given platform, but they won’t be the game-changer you might think.

This is a hard pill to swallow. As a creative, I’d like to think that great creative can stop people in their tracks, pull them in by the eyelids and have them read/listen to everything you have to say. But that’s not always the case. In fact, rarely.

But let’s be honest. Getting attention is not a new problem. Marketers and advertisers have seen attention drop-offs before. For example, research shows that magazine ads have seen viewer attention spans similar to a YouTube non-skippable ads (those pesky 6-second jobs), and newspaper ads can have a sharp recall curve not4 unlike an in-feed Facebook ad. The difference is we’re a bit more aware of the dips in viewership now thanks to ubiquitous tracking data and research.

Again, this is not exactly a new problem for us creative people either. You just have to look back at some of the famous quotes from the great minds in the industry:

Bill Bernbach: “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.”

David Ogilvy: “If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative.”

Mary-Wells-Lawrence-1968Mary Wells Lawrence: “People are very sophisticated about advertising now. You have to entertain them. You have to present a product honestly and with a tremendous amount of pizazz and flair. But you can’t run the same ad over and over again. You have to change your approach constantly to keep on getting their attention.”

John O’Toole: “We are uninvited guests in the living room of a prospect who has the magical power to make you disappear instantly.”

George Tannenbaum: "Attention spans are shrinking, which is why nobody writes long copy, which is why you should."

So it’s clear that this "attention" issue is not a product of the “modern age” or any specific platforms. No, it’s deeper than that. It’s caused by the audience being overloaded and not caring and/or not being interested in what they’re seeing. So what are we to do?

The solution just may be — creativity

What every good creative knows is —  before you even think about concepting a campaign, you need to get into the mind of your target audience. You need to understand both the platform being used and the consumer's mindset. Why are they there? How do they talk? What is important to them? What changes are going on in their lives? What are their needs, and desires? What drives them?
But finding answers to these questions takes time. Years sometimes. The ad industry has been making television ads for decades based on findings, surveys, research, and data. On the flip side, TikTok has only been around for a few years. It's still the wild west. 

If you lean on best practices, you know you need to stick to the “rules of the road” for each platform and create tailored ads for that audience. Then and only then will you have the best chance to get the most attention possible on that channel.

Again, research proves it out. Kantar found that campaigns with ads tailored to specific digital channels have 13% greater impact on brand equity vs. using the same ads on different channels.

taking an unconventional creative approach produces 40% longer viewing time on average

Likewise, Ipsos found that the same creative often doesn’t perform equally across channels. In their research, strong TV commercials did not make good skippable or in-feed online ads, and ads developed for online formats performed fairly well in-feed but not very well on television.

YouTube’s advice is to use emerging story arcs — not traditional story arcs. New story arcs get as much as 4X the watch time before being skipped – 20 seconds compared to five – and ads with traditional arcs are twice as iStock-1436794232likely to be poor performers. The same is true on TikTok. Their advice says you should start with a bang — a hook – to get the viewer’s attention. A slowly developing storyline that might work for a TV commercial, but is likely to fall flat on this channel.

But one of the most startling findings comes from Ipsos: They recommend that you “challenge category conventions... taking an unconventional creative approach produces 40% longer viewing time on average for skippable ads.”

That's great to hear because this is what we’ve been preaching from the dawn of time in creative departments. Another way to say it is “When they zig, you zag.”

As George Tannenbaum said above, “When no one is writing long copy, you should be.”

Final Though — Emotion is the secret ingredient

We’ve heard the word “storytelling” bandied around more than it should be these days. And just about every major advertiser out there has a tear-jerking spot somewhere in their arsenal (they tend to come out around the holidays and bleed into the Super Bowl).iStock-1411675569

System1’s studies of ads on Meta and Pinterest show emotional ads are much more likely to drive brand recall. And heart-string tuggers on Pinterest helped drive 6X as much recall as low/no-emotion ads.

Interestingly when we zoom in on this “zig when they zag” idea, we see a strong resemblance to what Bernbach, Ogilvy, and Mary Wells Lawrence preached back in the day.

You’ve got to know what works on a platform or channel and craft ads for that platform to help ensure they deliver the trifecta of A.) attention B.) brand recall and C.) communication.

Let's take it one step further... on top of A, B, and C, today you also need D.) difference and E.) emotion. So now your ads must:

A. Attention (hook)

B. Brand recall (interest in the brand/product)

C. Communication (create desire)

D. Differentiate (zig zag)

E. Evoke emotion (tell it/show it with feeling)

None of these principles is earth-shattering. Quite the contrary, they should be tattooed on the biceps of every serious creative in the business.

But in the creation process, you also need to consider the consistency of your messaging. You want to be on strategy across channels and platforms. And unless you have an unlimited budget, that may mean using fewer channels. Some of these will have implications for how the creative is developed: which is another good reason to plan your strategy and creative together.

“When they zig, you zag.”

And then finally, one glorious day... after all the hard work, everything finally comes together… the perfect balance, you know you’ve got a winner, right message, right format, right platform, emotion, the whole enchilada — and then you look around only to find a hot new platform has popped up and suddenly — you're back at the drawing board.

Getting there is hard work, but J&C can help.  For over 40 years, we've helped clients get better results from their omnichannel campaigns. There's a reason marketers turn to us again and again — because when you mix the right words, images, offers, CTAs, and persuasive DM know-how, it's a powerful combination — and it gets results. 

Topics: Direct Marketing, Direct Mail, Creative

Recent Posts