There’s never been more content to choose from. More platforms to watch, listen, read, and consume media. We’re cutting cords and blocking brands. And when we’re not skipping ads, we’ve got a second screen in our hand with more content. The truth is, there’s basically no such thing as a captive audience anymore. And if they do exist, pretty much an endangered species by now.
Our attention spans are shrinking. And ads are shrinking with them. Now, if you’re like most people, that probably sounds like a good thing. But if you work in advertising, shorter attention spans are creating some serious challenges. And opportunities.
Let’s talk about shrinkage – why it sucks and why it’s awesome.
Just a quick disclaimer before we get into things. A lot of really talented people worked really hard on the work I’m about to dissect. So, no disrespect.
WHY IT SUCKS:
Compelling Stories Take Time.
Building an emotional connection with a viewer isn’t something you can rush. Shorter ads give us a significantly smaller canvas to work on. And when you only have a few seconds to work with, clients will almost always choose function over emotion. Brand over story.
Try to imagine this Expedia spot as a 15. Now, I’m not saying it couldn’t be done. But it would lose a lot of impact.
Make the Logo Bigger.
While most clients want to tell these compelling, emotional stories, they also want to see their brand in the first few seconds of the spot. Opening mnemonics are basically the TV equivalent of a client telling you to “make the logo bigger” on a print ad (whoa, remember print ads?). Not only do opening mnemonics eat up precious, precious time, they do nothing to engage the viewer. They can actually act as a queue to tune out. “Sweet. An ad for frozen French fries. Now get the hell off my screen.”
On the other hand, research tells us that the first 3 – 6 seconds are key. So hitting your audience with your product right off the top can drastically increase brand recall. It’s a risk vs. reward thing: Rely on your creative to captivate your audience, or force fit your brand into the first few seconds and risk losing them.
Here’s a spot I wrote for Captain Morgan last year that, against my best efforts, ended up with an opening mnemonic. It still does its job, but I think it would have been a lot more rewarding if we revealed the product at the end. You be the judge:
It’s So Crazy It Just Might Work.
To break through the clutter, brands are willing to try some pretty crazy shit. From surfing babies, to dancing aliens. You can practically hear someone saying “It’s so crazy it just might work.” And sometimes it does – Skittles and Old Spice have become known for how weird their ads are. But sometimes it doesn’t. And you get this:
WHY IT’S AWESOME:
It’s Forcing Us to Innovate.
Some brands are using shorter ads to their advantage with self-aware content. Content that says, “We know we’re interrupting your shameless YouTube binge session, so we’ll make this quick.” The ad itself is actually un-skippable, and was always going to be 15 seconds, but somehow you feel like they’re doing you a favour.
This technique can be super disarming, and is part of the reason why Geico is the prince of pre-roll right now. These spots get straight to the point, “fast-forward” through most of the ad so you can get to the video you’re waiting to watch. The beauty is that the spots leave you in such bizarre situations, that you actually want go back to see what you missed. Smart.
Explore New Methods.
Some strategies take a totally different approach – less story, more contextual relevance. Campbell’s Soup Tube does a great job of hitting you with the right message at the right time.
It’s a bit like modern day, digital product placement. But instead of Tom Hanks yelling “Wilson!”, you get served a pre-roll ad for soup. (Man, Castaway was awesome.)
Break The Mould.
On the other hand, some brands are choosing to create something people actually want to watch. Real, worthwhile content. Sometimes that means letting your brand take the back seat to an amazing story. This kind of rich content cuts through the clutter in a different way, because it’s typically shared by someone you know or endorsed by an outlet you trust. That stamp of approval goes a long way.
Check out this short film Patagonia helped fund in 2015. Fair warning, if you haven’t already seen this – prepare your tear ducts.
Our attention spans are shrinking. Blame it on social media and streaming services. Blame it on your smartphone. Blame it on the screen you’re reading this on right now. And as our attention spans continue to shrink, so do the ads we create. We need to evolve to be effective. So experiment. Take risks. Adapt.
The rules are changing. But we get to write the new ones.