Do digital marketers have a goldfish problem?

The question of shorter attention spans.

published on
March 12, 2020

Apparently, the average human has an attention span of eight seconds, while the average goldfish can pay attention for nine. Not flattering. This is according to a recent study by Microsoft, which is cited in several digital marketing articles.

The thrust of most of these articles is this: the human attention span is getting shorter, so we have to change our marketing in kind. Write shorter. Break up long videos into shorter ones. Make sure the client’s logo shows up in the first five seconds.

However, the evidence used to support these “solutions” is confusing at best. And the “problem” of shorter attention spans is itself questionable. Consider this: the average person is exposed to roughly 5,000 online ads a day. At Simon/Myers, we see this as more of an information overload problem than one of shorter attention spans.

To this point, Ken Faro and Michael Grimes of MediaPost Agency Daily suggest that the eight-second attention span is really an “eight-second filter,” which only the most relevant content gets through. In their words, “…effective content isn’t about shouting a message before we lose a consumer’s attention. It’s about… triggering an emotional reaction, introducing a narrative hook or prompting a sense of identity and recognition.”

Milana Saric at Adweek puts it this way: “To break through the noise in a world of increased scrolling speeds and fragmented customer focus, brands must tell an interesting story with their ads, ensuring that the messaging is equal parts engaging and useful.” We couldn’t agree more.

Dollar Shave Club's "Get Ready" Video

Plus, according to YouTube marketing expert Brendan Gahan, there’s plenty of evidence that consumers do engage with longer content. He cites research by video platform company, Ooyala, showing that the consumption of long-form video content went up 30% from 2017 to 2018. He also points out how Dollar Shave Club built a billion-dollar startup, not with 6-second online videos, but with the 90-second variety.

At Simon/Myers, we see it like this: The game isn’t to make your message fit the perceived attention span of consumers. Or goldfish. The game is to make your content meaningful and relevant enough to consumers that they want to spend more time with it.

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