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You’ve probably heard about the studies that show humans now have a shorter attention span (8 seconds) than goldfish (9 seconds). A study conducted by Microsoft, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, served up some eye-opening findings. After just 20 minutes on TikTok, users experienced a “significant decrease” in attention span and working memory. Could this trend only get worse? It’s easy to blame mobile devices and social media on our micro-attentions, but I believe it’s not that simple.

It’s partly our own fault–we all want instant access to everything, so technology has made content more scrollable (and skippable). The more people pass by content, the shorter it becomes. And this brings me back to advertising.


Our job as marketers is to communicate compelling reasons to like a brand or buy their services or products. Sure, it’s easy for well known brands to remind customers in a few seconds that they are still around. But what about newer brands with lesser known solutions, or more complex messages? How do they compete for people’s shrinking attention spans?

I remember the famous Howard Gossage quote which was often cited by both Rich and Jeff when I worked at Goodby; “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.” Of course this was back in the hey-day of print, but it still applies to the digital world. People will spend time with things that interest them. And sometimes it’s an ad.

Full page long copy newspaper ad for Finlandia Vodka from my days at GSP


It all comes down to the creative brief. We’ve all heard things like “Our main message is three-fold…” That is just plain lazy. The hard work for marketers is finding key insights and make the message super-simple and compelling. Afterall, it’s not like our audience is goldfish–that would be much easier.

If a creative strategy is insightful and the concept is great, even 6 second ads shouldn’t scare us. And if the content is interesting… screw the 6 seconds, make it a 5 minute film.

What’s caught my eye

Xfinity and agency GSP created this 3 minute video that tells the story of veteran pilots being reunited in a very emotional and engaging way.

Ads can engage quickly, even in 6 seconds, like this one from Hefty that promotes their iconic party cups


Just for the heck of it.

Still amazing after 10 years; Fresh Guacamole, the shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar.



PS: I’d love to hear your thoughts on the attention span of consumers or any other challenges you may be facing. Drop me a line and let me know!


Dave Devencenzi

Author Dave Devencenzi

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