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How to Navigate the Great Decline in Attention Span

By Erim Lally in Social Media on June 30th, 2016

Attention Span

The attention span of millennials is steadily decreasing. Statistics from Microsoft’s study show that in 2000, the average attention span for people aged 18-29 was 12 seconds, but now it stands at a dismal 8. These changes are also being reflected in the content shared on social media. For instance, Vine (6 second clips) was at its peak in 2013 but since then, user engagement has steadily declined. Now, all you have to do is take one look at your Twitter timeline to see that 1 second animated GIFs rule the roost.


At first glance, yes. People may spend less time paying attention to your ad; however, recent data shows consumers are getting better at multi-tasking now, so perhaps it isn’t all bad. Consumers are able to focus on multiple content pieces at once, so where before brands had to grab the consumer's undivided attention, now just a portion of it is sufficient to have an impact on their buying behavior. In a world where consumers are even seeing advertisements in the bathroom, marketers need to stay on top of their eye-catching game to win the attention of the millennial consumer. And, with only an 8 second window to do this, it’s time to get creative.

A great example of grabbing the consumer's attention comes from HBO. Their “Awkward Family Viewing” campaign consisted of a mini-series of a family watching various uncomfortable scenes on television and each family’s consequent reaction. It was funny, relatable and ultimately easy to digest. Nearly every viewer could feel the pain of the daughter watching a scene from Girls with her father. On top of its palpable relevance, it successfully met both the primary audience of millennials wanting more freedom and the secondary audience of parents not wanting to accept what their children watch. The campaign was incredibly successful when run as YouTube non-skippable in-stream ads; their “skip” rate was well below the average of 80-85%. The campaign truly taught an award-winning lesson in how to grab the consumer’s attention. Similarly, Geico created an “Unskippable” YouTube ad that won AdAge’s 2016 Campaign of the year, capitalizing on grabbing the audience’s attention and curiosity from the start.


The decreased attention span gives advertisers a chance to reach and convert the consumer to capitalize on what is known as “present bias.” According to Nobel Prize winner Professor Daniel Kahneman, this is where an individual is more likely to pay attention to what is happening now rather than the future. Therefore, by combining a lack of time spent alongside a deprivation of foresight, buying decisions become more impulsive. Marketers are now challenged to deliver the consumer the information they need in rapid-fire sequence. By meeting this need, brands can help their customers get on with their busy lives without taking up too much of their brain power.


This is slightly trickier as buyers for businesses are well trained in decision-making and have a longer process to go through before an executive decision is made. According to eMarketer, 29% of those ages 40-70 said they trusted social networks as a source of information when making a purchase decision; 31% trusted people they follow online and a whopping 66% trusted online reviews.

It’s well known among marketers that trust has a huge impact on buying decisions. So in the case of shorter attention spans, advertisers must provide customers with trustworthy information. This can be hard as usually B2B products and services are more technical and thus harder to condense. To get around this, a best practice is to create a mini-series of short informative videos designed to engage and educate. Information should be bite-sized; the brand should be easily recognized and the content should offer a solution to the customer’s problem. In the caption for the video, a statistic or quote teamed with a clear call to action (CTA) is the perfect recipe for link clicks.  These short videos can be used to hook the user’s attention and should drive to the full video or extended version hosted on the brand website or blog where they can learn more.

With attention spans continuing to decline, it’s all about delivering your message in as few characters and pixels as you can. Once you’ve mastered the art of creating bite-sized, engaging content, what’s left of the customer’s attention span is yours for the taking.


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