The surprising difference 0.1 seconds of attention can make

Why CMOs need to be more strategic in executing creative for certain opportunities

By the time a lot of ad creative goes out the door, I’m sure everyone’s gotten tired of looking at it. Unfortunately, consumers are far less likely to give it that much attention, and Michael Wedel can prove it.

A professor of marketing at the Smith School in the University of Maryland, Wedel recently published a study where he examined how well audiences responded to ads before they had achieved what’s called “full eye fixation,” or greater than 0.1 seconds. That’s pretty short, but according to Wedel it’s long enough for many people to get what they need. Of course, not all ads get across in that timeframe:

Ads that do the best in short timeframes are “upfront ads”: Ones that feature that product clearly, in a predictable typical way. (Think of a picture of a Coke bottle used to sell Coke.) These are exactly the kinds of ads that creative directors think are boring. But his research finds that they are well received both over short and long time periods. Cleverer types of ads, which Widel classifies as “mystery” ads or “false-front” ads, inspire negative reactions either immediately or over the long term.

I don’t necessarily think the takeaway here should be that marketing executives only approve ads that hit people over the head with their message so they can take advantage of this tiny span of attention. However, it does reflect the need to be more strategic in what kind of creative is executed for specific opportunities, and where the consumption patterns might be common across touchpoints. Though I don’t think they’re widely used yet, for instance, I could imagine an ad on a smartwatch, which someone might only glance at occasionally, is one of the places where that 0.1 seconds applies. The same might go for a lot of OOH ads that appear on highway billboards.

For those moments, the ad industry and CMOs might have to think of ways they can make their brands iconic. I’m not talking about a Nike swoosh here, but an icon that represents a campaign message — something that can sum up that story as symbolically as an icon on their phone.

In other environments where the ad space is more crowded, on the other hand — and this might include everything from websites to print magazines — ads as we know them may not work at all if 0.1 seconds is all someone will give them. This is where true storytelling makes more sense, and where mystery, suspense and other narrative elements will work better. Call that kind of branded content “clever” if you want, but Wendel’s research shows understanding the difference between those two contexts is more critical than ever.

“Just a second!” we cry out when someone wants something from us and we’re in the middle of something else. In 2016, that cry is actually coming from marketers and ad agencies. Consumers may only be willing to give that attention sparingly, but a real campaign will unfold in ways that build a story out. Yes, being up front may be best at the start, especially when consumers don’t want to take time to figure an idea out, but complexity may be necessary to extend a brand conversation in meaningful ways. You may only have 0.1 seconds to garner interest, but the end result should mean they want to spend far more than 0.1 seconds to learn more.

 

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