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Attention spans are shorter than ever. This is a wake up call for advertisers

It’s no secret that the human attention span is fighting a losing battle when faced with the digital landscape we’ve created over the last few years. In 2004, scientists noticed that computer users stayed on one screen for an average of 2.5 minutes. By 2012 it decreased to 75 seconds, and a few years later? Just over 45 seconds. Yikes.

A recent study by TikTok revealed that nearly 50% of respondents said that videos that are longer than 1 minute were “stressful”. Younger generations like Gen Z and millennials have been inundated with perfectly curated short-form videos that provide the exact amount of information needed in a short period of time. So, if something requires more attention than that, it changes the requirements of our cognitive function. This phenomenon has a name: TikTok Brain.

Attention spans are getting shorter. Social media is getting more addictive. Here’s how advertisers can capture one of the hottest commodities – attention.

The landscape has changed

Just to clear the air, social media isn’t the only thing to blame. For one, ADHD diagnoses are more equitably accessible to young girls and women, when previously the majority of diagnoses were only recognized for cis-male patients.

Not to mention the way our smartphones are wired (and our brains). Phones benefit from making their software more addictive, more colourful and more interesting to pick up each time. Every notification you get, your brain releases a little bit of dopamine. Dopamine is addictive, giving the mind and body a thrill from each hit. So, by extension, no notifications = less dopamine.

The expectation has changed

Platforms like TikTok encourage and even optimize for content that is short, succinct and most of all, interesting. Short-form content is so easily consumed and addictive that a quick phone pick-up to check your emails could lead you down a 20-minute scroll of quippy, viral videos through your For You Page.

This is because the perceived time investment of using short-form video apps is allegedly zero, but in fact, it’s the complete opposite. After all, it’s way less commitment to microdose hundreds of 5 second videos than it is to sit and watch a movie. Vine really said it well: “You now have six seconds to be funny.”

Brands need to change

Consumers no longer want to wait for “the good part.” Every consumer is sitting there with their finger ready on the scroller, prepared to skip through the video the moment it gets boring. Every video is set to double speed because people aren’t talking fast enough. Patience is a virtue that social media users no longer have.

Everyone knows the key ingredients for the perfect social media video: Engaging hook, listicle format, end CTA. The only thing up in the air? How long and not to mention, how many.

Since social platforms are prioritizing short pieces of content, brands can use that to their advantage by constantly building content in bulk. If you have an upcoming product photoshoot for your clients, be prepared to film vertical behind-the-scenes content throughout the day. But here’s the key: Instead of dropping one 30-second BTS video, find 5 trending audio formats and create 5 individual shorter videos. Especially since social platforms are endlessly filled with options for content to watch, the landscape becomes extremely competitive. The best way to stay nimble is to ensure you are putting out more content volume, thus increasing your odds of virality.

The digital space is filled with thousands of content pieces that pray for our attention every single day. While the social etiquette and best practices for short-form content seems to constantly be getting shorter and shorter, the one truth prevails: Consumers demand fresh ideas, interesting stories and without a doubt, more, more, more.

Need help catching customer attention? Choose a partner that knows how to market your brand to the internet. Super Duper Studios is an award-winning Toronto agency specializing in digital-first branding experiences across visual identity, social media, marketing campaigns and more.


Michelle Nguyen

Co-Founder & Chief Strategist at Super Duper Studios.

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