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Product Promotion in an Era of Shrinking Attention Span

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  • Thninketh Labs, Chennai, India

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One of the problems of the digital age is 'shrinking attention span'.Products will have to be promoted in all ages, electronic, digital or otherwise as we know and somebody has to attend to the message. The present day challenge for the marketing companies is the noise created by promotion and campaign messages in the electronic and mobile media and the skewed time at their disposal for customersto gain attention! The hapless customer is daily bombarded with so many messages that he/she really does not know what to listen and what to switch off. This being so, the product marketing companies have to daily contend with this phenomenon. This research paper deals with this subject and will review how companies are dealing with this situation currently and their future challenges with the anticipated proliferation of electronic gadgets and the corresponding increase in noise levels! The idea of this research paper owes its origin and conceptualization to a few youngsters who were disturbed by electronic media bombardment. Some solutions and thoughts for action are given at the end of the paper in conclusion. Keywords-Shrinking attention span, digital age and electronic message, bombardment of messages and the hapless customer, increasing gadgets and solution for this!
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Volume-7, Issue-2, March-April2017
International Journal of Engineering and Management Research
Page Number: 85-91
Product Promotion in an Era of Shrinking Attention Span
Dr. K. R. Subramanian
Senior Consultant & Professor of Management
ABSTRACT
One of the problems of the digital age is ‘shrinking
attention span’.Products will have to be promoted in all ages,
electronic, digital or otherwise as we know and somebody has
to attend to the message. The present day challenge for the
marketing companies is the noise created by promotion and
campaign messages in the electronic and mobile media and
the skewed time at their disposal for customersto gain
attention! The hapless customer is daily bombarded with so
many messages that he/she really does not know what to
listen and what to switch off. This being so, the product
marketing companies have to daily contend with this
phenomenon. This research paper deals with this subject and
will review how companies are dealing with this situation
currently and their future challenges with the anticipated
proliferation of electronic gadgets and the corresponding
increase in noise levels! The idea of this research paper owes
its origin and conceptualization to a few youngsters who were
disturbed by electronic media bombardment. Some solutions
and thoughts for action are given at the end of the paper in
conclusion.
Keywords--Shrinking attention span, digital age and
electronic message, bombardment of messages and the
hapless customer, increasing gadgets and solution for this!
I. INTRODUCTION
All new waves of technology and presently, it is
digital technology, has its effect ; the onslaught of
television, smart-phone, video, radio, social mediais
virtually shortening our attention spans. A recent non-peer-
reviewed study by Microsoft compared the attention span
of a human and a goldfish, and found the two were
disturbingly close. In fact, the goldfish beat us by half a
second. The human span was down about four seconds
from 2000, which some have said is due to technology
flooding and blinding our eyes, ears, and brains. The
average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused
goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a the study from
Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration
after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an
increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the human mind.
Figure 1: Marketing for Today’s Attention Span Example of Gold Fish
(Source: Flickr user: Lachlan Donald)
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Commercials have taken note of this and evolved
into shorter formats. Decades ago commercial breaks were
a full minute, in our recent past they were 30 seconds and
currently they top off at 15 seconds. Advertisers have
realized that viewers absorb and understand information
quickly during shorter commercials and turn their attention
off when exposed to longer duration or content. The
Advertizing companies have realized that the same
message can actually be relayed in a shorter duration, for
less cost.
Marketing doesn‘t end with television, however.
According to another study, the shrinking attention span
has also led to increased restlessness between gadgets,
with users switching between smart-phones, tablets and
laptops up to 21 times per hour. A few mobile marketers
have used this knowledge to marketing success.
Advertisers must ask themselves: If viewers aren‘t paying
attention, is it worth doing it? Today‘s marketing is about
instant gratification and appealing to users‘ deepest
desires. The rules require advertisers to keep content short,
focus on images and craft headlines that is catchy.
Effective, short attention span-approved ads could look
like this:
Figure 2: Advertisements with approved short attention spans
(Ref: web pages)
During a time when attention spans are more
skewed than ever, there are more creative ways to engage
users on mobile or tablet. It‘s time to give them what they
want. Attention is obviously a necessary ingredient for
effective advertising, but the emerging customers‘ digital
lifestyles are changing the brain, decreasing the ability for
prolonged focus and increasing their appetite for more
stimuli. There are a lot of variables behind the digital
initiatives. Media consumption, frequency of multi-
screening, and social media usage are the main
determinants of attention span variance. Research would
indicate that digital lifestyles deplete the ability to remain
focused on a single task, particularly in non-digital
environments. But, all is not lost. Connected consumers
are becoming better at doing more with less via shorter
bursts of high attention advertisements and more efficient
encoding to memory. Multi-screening, results in
consumers being less effective at filtering out distractions;
they are increasingly hungry for something new. This
gives more opportunities to hijack attention but also that
brands need to work harder to maintain it.
II. OBJECTIVES AND
METHODOLOGY
As mentioned in the introductory part, the span of
attention of consumers and customers is shrinking rapidly,
thanks to the environmental Revolution (!), which is quite
apparent. In the current situation marketers have a problem
- that is how to captivate the target audience in such a short
duration? The current research paper will focus on this
issue broadly with specific objectives as given below:
1. A critical review of changing consumer
perceptions
2. What are the critical factors affecting consumer
perception
3. Environmental impact on consumer perceptions
4. Marketing challenges in such an environment
5. How current day marketers face such challenges
6. Conclusion and Recommendation
Consumer behavior forms the basis of marketing
efforts. Perceptions change due to impact of environmental
factors like occupational limitations on availability of
spare time for shopping like the modern unitary family in
which both the husband and wife go to work. The free time
available for them is limited, that too when both are free to
do shopping. So, most of the shopping is hopping! The
only way for them to acquire knowledge of products and
services is through mobile and web based advertisements
since they spend almost their entire waking hours on the
internet and mobile. So, their purchasing decisions are
based on marketing communication through the electronic
media with less and less time for gaining attention!
Marketing needs to recognize this and be smart to
introduce, appeal and create a product pull with in such a
short span of time, often less than 30 seconds!
Considering all the above and recognizing that
consumers may not have the time to respond to a
questionnaire survey, it was decided to investigate the
problem though available literature. It is heartening to note
that academicians and marketers are already possessed of
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the situation as seen fromthe abundance ofliterature on the
subject. The challenge was to skim through such content as
customers do and arrive at appropriate conclusions based
on the limited objectives of this paper.This has
beenachieved to some satisfactory level as may be seen
from the conclusions!
III. REVIEW OF LITERATURE
‗The true scarce commodity in future will be
human attention.‘ said, SatyaNadella, the chief executive
officer of Microsoft while talking about brain and sensory
stimuli to attention! A Microsoft Canada study finds the
surprising upsides of digital lifestyles. While people‘s
attention levels are dropping, that‘s only true in the long
term. The study found early tech adopters and heavy social
media users have more ―intermittent bursts‖ of high
attention. They‘re better at identifying what they
want/don‘t want and need less to process and commit
things to memory. While overall our long-term focus does
erode with increased digital consumption and digital
behaviors, it is found that digital culture is actually
changing the way that consumers process information.
Consumers who have more digital lives are
actually getting better at processing information and then
encoding that to memory. So that is good news for
marketers overall. It changes the way we market to them
and how they adapt to our products and services. To get
consumers‘ attention, tactics like branded content, native
advertising and useful, entertaining and shareable content
work best, according to the Microsoft report. It‘s really
important that marketing communications be very clear,
concise, pointed, very personal and relevant, anything that
will lead consumers to want to engage with the content.
Today, marketers don‘t always have the luxury of building
a story, so that they need to craft headlines that can say it
all with a catchy message as clear and concise as possible.
Part of the problem is that advertisers try to
compress complex, 30+ second messages of brand
humanization into an eight second slot, as they do with
commercials. Video advertisements have to be short,
simple and relevant, lest they risk losing consumer interest
in viewing. They should be rewarded for their loyalty to
the game with an advertisement of similar interest. Say
you‘re having a conversation with your neighbor. You get
on the subject of politics; you lean one way and he leans
the other. You‘re trying to sell him on your views, but
instead he will lose complete interest. Advertising can
make or break your app. too many mobile ads, or even the
wrong kinds of mobile ads, can drive users away. Maybe
videos pop up too often in your mobile game.
By Kyle. Farr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Figure 3: Filter Model of Attention
Broadbent's Filter Model of Attention (See Figure
3) proposes the existence of a theoretical filter device,
located between the incoming sensory register, and the
short-term memory storage. His theory is based on the
multi-storage paradigm of William James (1890) and the
more recent 'multi-store' memory model by Atkinson
&Schifrin in 1968. This filter functions together with a
buffer, and enables the subject to handle two kinds of
stimuli presented at the same time. One of the inputs is
allowed through the filter, while the other waits in the
buffer for later processing. The filter prevents the
overloading of the limited-capacity mechanism located
beyond the filter, which is the short-term memory.The
theory has difficulties explaining the famous cocktail party
effect, proposed by British scientist Colin Cherry, which
tries to explain how we are able to focus our attention
toward the stimuli we find most interesting.
More recent research finds that Broadbent's
model failed to consider the time requirements of shifting
attention. However, he did distinguish that internal and
external stimuli can cause shifts of attention, though he did
not consider that internally and externally driven shifts of
attention may have differing time courses.Others, such as
Treisman, believed that Broadbent's model did not account
for many other findings. Treisman, who was one of
Broadbent's PhD students, proposed feature integration
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theory, which asserted that to form a perceptual object, we
must first look at its features in the pre-attentive stage and
then bind them in the focus attention stage.Treisman stated
that instead of a filter, people have an attenuator and it
identifies messages based on its physical properties or by
higher level characteristics, such as meaning. Attended
messages can be perceived according to Treisman's model
at a lesser strength, which happens instead of the
unattended message being blocking it. These findings
based on feature integration theory and the attenuation
model contradicted those of Broadbent's model because
Broadbent stated that people could not make meaningful
connections.
Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000
participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others
using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Microsoft found that
since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution
began) the average attention span dropped from 12
seconds to eight seconds. On the positive side, the report
says our ability to multitask has drastically improved in the
mobile age. Microsoft theorized that the changes were a
result of the brain‘s ability to adapt and change itself over
time and a weaker attention span may be a temporary side
effect of evolution to a mobile Internet culture. The survey
also confirmed generational differences for mobile use; for
example, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded "yes"
when asked, ―When nothing is occupying my attention, the
first thing I do is reach for my phone,‖ compared with only
10% of those over the age of 65.
Published scientific research looking at the effect
of modern technology on our cognitive abilities does show
an effect on attention. But contrary to popular opinion, it
shows attention spans have actually improved. For
example, habitual video gamers have demonstrated better
attention abilities than non-players and non-players who
started playing video-games began to show the same
improvements. More importantly, our minds are adaptive
systems, constantly reorganizing and refocusing our
mental faculties to suit the environment. So the idea that
our ability to pay attention may be changing in response to
the modern, online world is neither surprising nor anything
to necessarily worry about. However, there is an argument
that we must take care to keep control of our attention in a
world increasingly filled with distractions.
Earlier we have been relying on times when
people were able to be sat at their computer, now you have
a consumer who you can reach with your product all
through the day. This always on World Wide Web and the
huge amounts of content available on the internet has
significant implications for the modern day consumers‘
attention span. It has even greater implications for the new
generation of people who have never known anything but
high speed broadband and internet access, the future adult
consumer.
In a world of instant gratification and where an
alternative website is just a click away, website owners
need to find ways to firstly grab the attention of a user, and
then keep it for long enough to get your message across. If
you don't, their cursor will be heading to the back button
and on to a competitor at the blink of an eye. So, don't
make people wait for the information before even
looking at how you are going to present information on
your web pages you need to make sure the page loads as
quickly as possible. Include key information upfront and
begin with the end in mind a time poor website visitor is
looking for instant clarification they are in the right place.
By including key information up front you can convince
the user to read on rather than exit to another information
source. By deciding what you want the reader to take out
from a page, you can tailor your upfront copy accordingly.
Keep page content short and punchy and split any detailed
content out into secondary pages if applicable with the
limited attention span and desire for instant gratification of
the modern day internet consumer just seeing the scroll bar
shrink into oblivion can be enough for them to not even
start reading a page. Use rich media and alternative content
presentation to keep users attention the use of video as an
online communication medium is well documented. But
also think about other ways of representing information
such as images, graphs and other visual forms. Novelty
and the presentation of something that is new and
unexpected is one of the key elements of the Reticular
Activation System (RAS) which focuses attention. Playing
to this trigger through the representation information in
alternative forms will help you get your message across
effectively. Present information in a logical, sequential
pattern another element of RAS, by presenting
information in a logical sequence helps to keep the
attention of the user and allows you to take them through
some logical steps to conclusion and get all of your key
points across.
IV. VISUAL CONTENTS IN YOUR
PRESENTATION
The following illustrations (Figure 4 and 5) give a
clear idea of how visual presentations can help in online
communications as well as other digital communication
media.
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Figure 4: Effect of visual content
Tell the reader what they need, and want, to
know, and no more it sounds simple but far too many
people don't follow this rule. You want to tell a consumer,
or prospect, everything they need to know, but once you
have done
this, stop. If your goal is an online transaction then get
them to this point and present them with the option to
purchase. If you are producing information give them all
the top line stats they need to get your message across, and
leave anything supplementary for those that chose to find
it.
Figure 5: Visual Images better than texts
And the final point in operating a website in a
world of short attention spans is to use the data at your
disposal effectively for capturing consumer attention.
Microsoft and other media reports miss an
important aspect about the human brain: it‘s adaptable.
And in some cases, modern video technology results in
increased attention spans, not shrinking ones. The
Microsoft ―study‖ claimed that the human attention span
went from 12 seconds on average in 2000 to just 8.25
seconds in 2015. Those figures were compared to an
average goldfish attention span of 9 seconds. The problem
is, no definition of attention span is given, and it‘s not at
all clear how these numbers were developed. Another
problem is that when studies do provide a definition of
attention, a different physiological dynamic
arises. Attention (and its close relative, consciousness) is
one of the most studied attributes of the brain today.
Thousands of psychological, neurobiological and social
science studies have been conducted on how we ―pay
attention.‖ And one remarkable pattern shows that most of
the time, we don‘t. And that‘s a good thing.
Attention is actually the result of a series of
reactions in the brain to sensory stimuli. First, a stimulus
(say, an object picked up by the eyes) makes its way to the
posterior parietal cortex of the brain, which seems to be the
center of managing stimuli and attention. The brain has to
disengage from whatever it‘s focusing on now, move to
look at the new stimuli, engage that new stimuli and raise a
sense of alertness to that new stimuli. It‘s important to note
that behind all this focusing of attention is another
response, that of deliberately ignoring other stimuli. That‘s
important, because our eyes and brains (to say the least for
nose, ears and skin) are receiving thousands of stimuli at
any given moment.
Such adaptability has been the hall mark of
human race and is evolution (See Fig.6). Evidence
suggests that some of our ancestors turned to non-
vegetarian food when climate change reduced resource
rich vegetables. The signatures of these changes may
remain in our genes as is evident from our adaptable
nature.
Figure 6: Sashimi or BBQ: How and why did humans start to eat meat?
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Adaptive behavior has been studied by scientific
community and particularly Psychologists and the
conclusion is summarized as: Attention filters behaviorally
relevant stimuli from the constant stream of sensory
information comprising our environment. Research into
underlying neural mechanisms in humans suggests that
visual attention biases mutual suppression between stimuli
resulting from competition for limited processing
resources. As a consequence, processing of an attended
stimulus is facilitated. This account makes 2 assumptions:
1) An attended stimulus is released from mutual
suppression with competing stimuli and 2) an attended
stimulus experiences greater gain in the presence of
competing stimuli than when it is presented alone.
V. FINDINGS AND CONCLUSION
Review of Literature has clearly brought out that
Consumer perceptions are constantly changing due to
better education, training, opportunities for interaction at
work place and social interactions. Demographic changes
are also simultaneously taking pace like the families are no
longer big and it consist of husband, wife and kids only.
Several environmental factors are responsible for this. One
important factor is the lack of time. Modern day families
consist of husband and wife couples, both working and so
their mutual communication time is reduced not to speak
of available free time together to do house hold cores like
marketing for daily needs. But they belong to the group of
consumers to whom products and services have to be
marketed. So, one clear perception which emerges is that
consumer is constrained by time to listen to marketing
messages and promotion schemes. This is what leads to
shrinking attention span available to marketers!
So, marketers have to do their jobs in quick time
and faster to gain the attention of consumers in an
environment of shrinking attention span. Perception is
affected by promotion through various media, and
particularly the electronic media since it is easily
accessible and less time consuming for customers.
Consumer attention seeking marketing models and
consequent challenges of marketing people have been
outlined in the literature review.
With the rapid adoption of smart phones and
tablet computers and the expansion of free Wi-Fi, hotspots,
and reliable 3G we live in an always on world. You only
have to take a look around you in any public location, be it
a coffee shop, supermarket, or on a commuter train to see
that people are accessing the web on a constant basis. This
is great for web based businesses as it means their
audience is not only growing with each technological
advance, but is also reachable round the clock.
Marketing challenges would consist of
understanding latest concepts of human psychology and
behavior that has concluded that human behavior adapts to
new challenges. So, the digitalized environment will not be
a challenge for present generation of teenagers and future
managers as it is made out by Microsoft or other studies.
The human quality of continuous adaptation will prevail!
Marketers have understood this in developed countries and
where digitalization has already reached an advance level.
InIndia, thanks to the impetus given by our honorable
Prime Minister Shri. Modiji, this challenge is already
accepted by the younger generation!
The specialty of Marketing has been that it has
the capacity to acceptnew challenges and so, we have no
doubt that the present challenge of attention span which is
a temporary will be soon overcome!
VI. THOUGHT FOR ACTION
Our mental abilities are changing, as they always
have done in order to best serve our success in changing
environments. But now, more than ever, our environment
is made up of those who either want our attention or want
to sell access to it. It will certainly be interesting to see
how our cognitive abilities adapt to meet this new
challenge. However, as individuals we too must start
valuing our attention as much as the advertisers do.
Human‘s cognitive abilities change all the time and can
even vary day by day. It is not completely clear what effect
technology has on our attention span. Even though
Information technology might be the reason we can‘t focus
as well, it is very hard to prove that. But it is clear that
there needs to be more studies done on how technology
affects humans. We all use technology on a daily basis but
we have little comprehension of what it does to us. It is
nice to be able to Google the answer to almost any
question, but is there a price to pay for that? Technology
has its pros and cons but how does it affect humans?
Hopefully Life Sciences or Yoga can answer that question
soon.
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... Additionally, with this increased reliance on technology and digital interfaces, consumers have grown accustomed to having information presented to them in the quickest way possible. This has contributed to an age of rapidly shrinking consumer attention span and a greater reliance on concise information (Subramanian, 2017). ...
... In the digital marketing industry, many factors influence the success of advertising campaigns. However, in the current age of shrinking attention span and split-second decisions, it has become increasingly important for marketers to cater perfectly to the needs of the consumers (Subramanian, 2017). One key requirement for marketers to tailor their campaigns to specific consumer bases is their ability to understand the thought process of consumers. ...
... Thus, these online "personas" and digital environments that consumers situate themselves in effects their interpretation(s) of advertisements. In a practical sense, the situation of my findings within the broader scholarly context serves as a new level of insight into the complex tendencies of consumers that are important to understand in the field of digital marketing (Subramanian, 2017). ...
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With the fast-paced digital communication in today’s world, the average attention span of consumers is declining at an unprecedented pace. This lowered attention span increases the importance of product advertisements to be as immediately appealing as possible to attract the most customers. However, the tendencies of consumers can oftentimes be volatile and difficult to predict from the marketers’ standpoints. This study aims to provide deeper insight into the rift between consumers and digital marketing professionals that limits the reach of many advertisement campaigns. Bringing to light the discrepancies between how the two cohorts think on a fundamental level will assist digital marketers in their understanding of their target audience and how they can better tailor their advertisements for different demographics. In this semi-structured interview-based study, I juxtapose the underlying thought processes of two consumers and two digital marketing professionals using the narrative analysis approach. Based on this study’s findings, consumers had more informal and personal rhetoric, while the professionals interpreted the advertisements with a more analytical and investigative viewpoint. This study’s results aim to further the understanding of the psychological aspect of digital advertising and how consumers can be better targeted to improve advertising success.
... An appraisal of local online education at RPH showed that hospital staff were either unaware the content was available or it was considered irrelevant or too long by end users (May, 2019). Subramanian (2017) acknowledged the shrinking attention span of users, explaining that poor attention span is often accompanied by short, intermittent bursts of high audience attention. Based on this, a new educational format was developed specifically to engage clinical and non-clinical staff in continuing education. ...
... 3. Content was subject to peer review, utilising existing clinical and education governance structures prior to publishing (Buchem & Hamelmann, 2010;Subramanian, 2017). ...
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... In the current climate, where consumers' attention spans are short and various devices and displays fight for attention, it is challenging for marketers to stand out from the crowd [1]. However, with marketers realizing that an emotional hook has much better possibilities of generating customer engagement, brand stories are growing in popularity [2]. ...
... Despite the infusion of adverts in YouTube content, there have been arguments and counter arguments with respect to the attention and retention span given by viewers, especially millennials to these advertisements on which according to Subramanian (2017), viewers of today have an attention span likened to a goldfish with an eight seconds limit which is much less compared to the average goldfish; this posits they pay little to no attention to advertisements thereby affecting their purchase decision negatively. Trivedi et al. (2020) have also claimed that today's viewers have far shorter attention and retention span than they had 20 years ago, and that companies on YouTube now only have a short window to engage and maintain their millennials interests in terms of the advertisements they offer. ...
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... Attention can be described as a set of mechanisms that allows the allocation of cognitive resources, which are assumed to be limited [13]. There has been extensive scientific research that studies the attention span of humans [15]. It is found to be very short-lived. ...
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Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded from 12 subjects as they attended to the left or right hemifield of a visual display while fixating a central point. Stimuli were presented to the left or right visual fields on separate trials (unilateral stimuli) or to both fields simultaneously (bilateral stimuli). In different conditions, the stimulus sequences contained only bilateral stimuli, only unilateral stimuli, or a mixture of unilateral and bilateral stimuli. Bilateral stimuli elicited an enhanced positivity lasting from about 75 to 250 msec that was largest at posterior electrode sites contralateral to the attended hemifield. The early phase of this attention-related positivity appeared to be an enhancement of the exogenous P1 component. In contrast, both the posterior P1 and N1 components were enhanced in response to attended unilateral stimuli. Moreover, the N1 attention effect was reduced when the preceding stimulus contained elements in the attended field. It was concluded that modulations of the N1 and P1 components in these experiments represent different aspects of visual spatial attention: N1 may represent the orienting of attention to a task-relevant stimulus, whereas P1 may represent a facilitation of early sensory processing for items presented to a location where attention is already focused.
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