The erosion of attention in the era of “information overload” has become cliché. The disintegration of attention has long been related to computer technology. For instance, the first published use of the word “multitask” appeared in an IBM paper from 1965 in reference to a computer simultaneous processing powers and it’s since become a mainstay in the popular idiom of the modern culture of distraction. It might be said that we’re rapidly becoming beset with “digital amnesia”. Studies have discovered that for the memory habits of 6,000 adults, looking up information online “prevents the building up of long term memories”. Similarly, in 2015 Microsoft published a report that argued the widespread usage of smartphones has led to the deterioration of attention span from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today.
The fragmentation of attention within the “Age of Distraction” has spawned a small cottage industry of publications, including: Maggie Jackson’s ominously titled Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, Matthew Crawford’s influential The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in the Age of Distraction, David Mikics’ Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our brains to name just a few. For Carr, the internet may have detrimental effects on cognition that diminish the capacity for concentration and contemplation, whilst Mikics speaks of “Continuous Partial Attention” in the internet age. For both, they paint a landscape where technology has wrought harm to our ability to be wholly present.
The erosion of attention has especially enormous implications for the world of advertising and marketing. Think with Google have recently found ad attention effectiveness depends on more than just reach as attention rates differ widely across screens. The majority (55%) of TV ad time is not paid attention to, as people multi-task, switch channels, and fast-forward sporadically. In contrast, paid YouTube advertising is 84% more likely to receive attention, and users who both see and hear ads experience “higher brand awareness, higher ad recall, and higher consideration” than those who only see or only hear ads. Consequently, Google assert it’s “time to think beyond reach” and that “reach is worthless without attention”. The crucial distinction between reach and attentive reach is a new pathway for advertising research.
Snapchat, the ubiquitous and immensely popular app that allows images and videos to be shared for a limited number of seconds, offers a curious insight into this hurried culture branded by the buzzwords like “distraction” and “partial attention”. Remarkably, this platform of superficiality and hypertemporality has achieved great success in the volatile environment of online advertising. Snapchat have coupled a data-centric technology that pinpoints an ad campaigns users with their platform based around the projection of brief, distracting bits of fun, to surprising success. A recent article on Business Insider outlines how Snapchat are eating into “a key source of Facebook’s ad revenue”. They have recently developed a sponsored lens format, where advertisers can purchase expensive selfie filters (which are called Lenses) for national campaigns, allowing brands to instantly assert their own style on the platform of brevity. Furthermore, Snapchat also recently struck a deal recently with Oracle Data Cloud to show ads based on what users buy in the real world and have developed the machine-learning technology to target app installer ads that ask users to swipe up on full-screen video ads. This, in the words of Peter Sellis, a Director of Monetization Products at Snap Inc., “is a new cost-efficient way to drive app installs right from Snapchat”. In other words, Snapchat have built a new way for brands to communicate with their customers from inside the Age of Distraction. Making inattention not a detrimental or paralysing effect, but the means to distribute fun and stylish content to the demographic of Generation Z who are becoming increasingly difficult to penetrate.
Snapchat’s success as a platform for social-media based advertising speaks of the importance of finding new mediums of communicating with customers in the Age of Distraction. At LaunchLeap, we understand user’s attention spans are increasingly divided, as the act of multitasking becomes more and more typical. This is why our visual and interactive feedback campaigns are carefully designed both express a brands style, voice, and essence, whilst allowing access to the hard, objective data needed to drive tough decisions. The participation and completion rates of LaunchLeap’s campaigns are way above average.
Interestingly, Frank Furedi, an acclaimed professor of Sociology, offers some hope in Power of Reaing: From Socrates to Twitter. Furedi relates the sensationalised fearmongering of contemporary books about the “dark age of distraction” to how Socrates reacted to the invention of writing by arguing that it would weaken readers’ memory, and how the Victorian sentimental novel was once similarly considered a medium of meaningless distraction from more moral and intellectually stimulating activity. Perhaps the lesson is, simply, if you have good content, people will pay attention. LaunchLeap helps brand’s make sure the way they go about engaging their users is distraction-proof, helping brands weather the latest firestorm of inattention.