Attention Span is Negotiable
Jul 22, 2009
It seems fairly obvious, actually. Regardless of the engagement—whether a show, print ad, TV commercial, or website—somebody is trying to get your attention, and their putting their cards immediately on the table to buy it for some period of time. That’s the beginning of the negotiation. Either you buy in, or you don’t. And you’ve probably made up your mind how long they can have you before you’re conscious about making the decision. But as in all negotiations, there are more steps than the first, and they’re going to put in bids for more.
Now the holy grail, especially in the minds of marketers, is successfully negotiating for your attention beyond the length of the initial media engagement. For instance, I once spent about 20 minutes on a 15 second TV ad. It was for an upcoming show named Chuck. Here’s the ad; it was a hyper-speed image sequence that I ended up using my DVR (that commercial skipping machine) to watch it frame by frame. (Here’s a version that’s been slowed down for you.) After that episode, I went searching online for more info, and found plenty of other discussions about it. About a week after the initial viewing, they added a link for folks like me to find more info. Then they gave me the show, of which I’ve been a devoted watcher since the beginning. And I’m looking forward to the next season.
The path described above is what I’m calling the Action Thread. They successfully negotiated for my attention by putting something different—something intriguing—out there; and with the extra time they bought, they gave me an online destination that both gave me answers and further peaked my curiosity; and then they delivered a product that lived up to the initial hype.
Here’s a more recent example from Samsung that sparked some good debate around the office.* These 103 seconds are an openly sponsored challenge, asking people to use the YouTube comments to try and describe how the illusion in the spot was pulled it off. It has over 1 million views to date, and around 2,000 comments. Because of the nature of the piece (i.e. “watch carefully and see if you can catch us”), you have to assume it successfully negotiated for plenty of viewer’s time beyond those 103 seconds. And, in fact, there was measurement done that proves it worked: the average time spent with the piece is longer than the piece itself.
Visible Measures captured that data, and they give the spot a lot of credit for that successful negotiation. But is all of it deserved? In our workplace conversation, there was some confusion voiced as to whether the goal was to go viral, or sell cameras. (Or was it a phone? And who made it again? Plenty didn’t remember which kind of product it was, or the brand name.) At the same time, there was plenty that thought it had good hook: people love puzzles and mysteries, so appealing to that can help the marketer in attention-span negotiations. And, of course, as Roger (@rogerhavoc, a Center Line Editor/Sound Designer) pointed out, “Here we are, all talking about.” Sooner or later it’s going to hit potential-puchaser eyes, right? Hopefully.
“It never could’ve existed in another medium… you couldn’t do this on television,” said Matt Cutler, VP Visible Measures. Um… why not? No, you couldn’t do the whole thing on TV. But would they have been able to start an Action Thread with a glimpse of it on TV? Would those people who chose to follow from TV to online be more apt to actually buy the product than those who received the video via “viral” spread?
And was your user name and comment really the best incentive that could be offered for those who figured it out? (Especially since there was as much “fame” given to many of those who were going for humor rather than a solution in their comment.) How about some discounting the $700+ price tag for those who engaged and figured it out?
In the end, there’s no results that could be reported as to whether it just got buzz, or if it sold phones. And there in-lies the real crux of viral marketing: Is there a line between engaging and informative that can be walked to make a monetarily successful viral campaign? Did people buy into the Samsung challenge, or did they buy into the product? Could there have been a different tactic, different online location (for instance, on the Samsung site), or other mediums involved to make the effort more than just a curiosity?
Our thoughts were summed best phrased by Fabian (@fabianmarquez, a Center Line Senior Writer): “I admire the piece more for what it represents than for what it accomplished. It’s not a blockbuster, but it’s a credible road map.”
Where’s the next stop on the trip? What’s the best strategy to negotiate the start of an Action Thread?
*This piece is informed by many different Center Line voices. We pulled all 30+ of us together virtually via the Center Line Lab: a private Ning community that we use to synthesize research, incubate project ideas, and share our culture.
Watching TV as a kid, I used to run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials. Those days launched me down a path that included layout and writing for the college paper; communications strategy for political campaigns; marketing strategy and graphic design for Gensler (a global design and architecture firm); and the implementation of new programming, animation and design techniques for Centerline. Today I specialize in content marketing strategy and building digital deliverables to execute those strategies. But it’s about more than just creating killer digital content. At Centerline, we help clients succeed in the digital marketplace using a three-pronged approach: strategic (message creation, brand strategy), tactical (design, development), and analytical (measurement and adaptation). This experience-tested approach allows me to build campaigns that are both well-designed and effective for clients like IBM, GE and National Instruments.