Reports this year have suggested that our average attention span is now just 8 seconds. If that’s believed to be true, then I’ve probably lost you already to cute pictures of kittens and puppies on Facebook… right…about… now!
If you’re still with me, thank you so much. If not, maybe that contradicts the arguments I’m about to make in this piece.
So anyway, where did this myth come from? In 2015, Microsoft Canada released a report claiming attention span had fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2013. Since then, all the major publishers have jumped on this claim with social media largely taking most of the blame for the sharp decrease. But how true are these claims?
Although I do agree that attention span is shrinking and it’s true that it’s never been more difficult to attract a captive audience on social media, I fear the recent news likening us to goldfish is little more than an excuse for poor marketing that doesn’t meet the needs of the typical consumer in 2018.
I thought to get to the bottom of this argument around attention span, I’d start by taking a look at the facts not just on social, but the consumption trends on other forms of media too.
What better place to start than at Hollywood? According to Wired.com, the average shot length of English language films has declined from about 12 seconds in 1930 to about 2.5 seconds today. That’s quite some decline, and potentially caused by our demand for quicker content. It’s an equally interesting story when looking at length of film too. On the surface, films are longer than ever before and on average, last approximately 130 minutes in 2018, compared to around 120 in the 1980s. However, if you grew up in the 60’s you’d know that this was the norm back then. Films today have returned to similar lengths seen between 1960 and 1970.
If our attention span was getting drastically shorter, wouldn’t that be reflected across other forms of content, not just social media?
It’s widely believed that video content on Facebook should typically be no longer than 30 seconds due to diminishing retention rates across the board. The rise of listicles in the last 10 years and the popularity of that content on social media for brands such as BuzzFeed can also be inferred as further evidence of audiences preference for content that is simple, full of visuals and easily digestible.
But does that mean that audiences attention spans are decreasing?
My main issue with the 8-second belief is that for me, it is far too sweeping a statement that doesn’t apply sufficient context in terms of audience content preference vs marketing outputs in 2018.
Do we have short attention spans or does this say more about the low quality of content that brands are typically shoving in our faces?
Netflix is a fascinating brand to look at when considering audience attention.
According to an analysis from Streaming Observer, ‘the average Netflix user now spends 1 hour and 11 minutes each day streaming on the service. That’s over 434 hours — or 18 full days– spent streaming on Netflix in just one year.’
Even more alarming is the fact that the same study claims we spent more time bingeing on Netflix, than we do spending time with family. Yikes. No shortage on attention span there…
But back to the point, Netflix is a great case study that demonstrates that they are able to command the attention of users for far longer than other platforms, why is that? Quality of content. Millenials consume 18 hours of content every day, brands need to be more sympathetic when creating content and understand their consumption preferences better than ever before, that doesn’t start with length in my opinion. It starts with what you’re serving that audience to sustain interest.
What I think is indisputable, is that as consumers, what we really want from brands is simplicity of message, easily digestible content that resonates with our interests. We need to work a lot harder as marketers to maintain a captive audience, but that audience will stick with a brand if the content is worthy enough.
Alex Chung argued at SXSW earlier this year, we are nearly at 100% content consumption, the same couldn’t be said 5-10 years ago. He’s right, we are served more content now than ever been before. That means we have to be more selective with what we consume, after all we have brand messaging coming at us from every angle in the form of newspapers, radio, TV, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, the list goes on.
According to a Fors-Marsh analysis, people can recall mobile news feed content after only 0.25 seconds of exposure. This is significant because it means we are able to determine whether content resonates in lightning-fast speed. The more content we are served daily, the quicker we need to be able to decipher what content we actually want to consume.
So what am I getting at? Rather than obsessing about how short attention span supposedly is or isn’t, I think it’s more important to focus on the strength of content being served. I’m a real believer that if the content is captivating and resonates quickly, your target audience will stick with you.
Do that well consistently, and the audience will live with you for a lot longer than 8 seconds.
•Nervously awaits to see retention rate on this blog!•