Eight Seconds

by Oct 8, 2018

We’ve all seen articles with Microsoft’s findings a few years ago that the human attention span is now eight seconds.

If you got here by watching the animation on one of our social media pages, you should know that that spot is nine seconds long. According to Microsoft, if you’re a goldfish – attention span nine seconds – you might have watched the whole thing. A human being might have missed our logo at the end.

We’ve also seen reports that say we are exposed to four-thousand advertisements daily. Okay, I’ve seen reports that say the number is closer to ten-thousand per day. Anyway, it’s a lot. That one influences the other goes without saying.

Now, I respect good research as much as the next person, but I take it with a grain of salt. I like what Mark Twain said when referencing Benjamin Disraeli. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

I don’t argue that numbers aren’t accurate. I do wonder, however, what it is that influences the numbers.

I also like what Jerry Seinfeld says, “There is no such thing as an attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing. This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.”

That’s true, I think. And you could substitute the words “informing” or “engaging” for “entertaining.” With so much to look at and so many things screaming for our attention, we naturally tune out most of what is presented to us unless it is one of those things.

I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. People have always been this way. I doubt someone traveling on a New York subway fifty years ago paid attention to everyone on his or her commute. But they would have looked up if one of those thousands had called out their name or fired a shot in the air. Then, their attention would be quite focused, and for as long as necessary.

In terms of all the media we are exposed to today, people simply tune out most of what is presented to them, unless:

1. The visual attracts them
2. The message is important to them
3. The medium engages them
4. The delivery entertains or informs them

We can see some proof of this in eye-tracking studies. When all four of those characteristics are present, we seem to have a limitless attention span – think binge-watching.

It’s also important to remember that every medium through which we advertise is giving the viewer only a snapshot of our complete story anyway. Our real strategy is to tell the whole story over time through multiple impressions. So, in that case, eight seconds is plenty of time for page one of our story! Eight seconds next week is good to tell page two. And so on.

And while I don’t think anyone will curl up for days watching endless Geico commercials, I do think designers, writers and other creatives can use their skills and tools to effectively address each of the areas above and reach viewers one impression at a time.