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Skip ad in 5 seconds…The secret of grabbing attention. One aspect of our lives the internet has altered forever is our attention-span. Everything can be fast-forwarded or skipped if it doesn't grab attention in the first three seconds. Many of the videos on YouTube have a “skip ad in 5 seconds” tab in the bottom right of the screen and we’re all guilty of using it. No matter what our age, we are all part of the skip-ad generation. So if you’ve got something to say in a video, how do you keep your audience’s attention? Google call it “viewer engagement” which is not an airy-fairy term but the simple measurement of how long a viewer stays on a web page. This is of critical importance to the marketer for obvious reasons. In days gone-by, ad agencies could produce “teaser ads” where the product in a TV commercial was not revealed until the very end. That’s fine in an environment where you couldn’t skip through the ad, but today, teaser ads are just a waste of everyone’s money.
To solve this dilemma, you need to understand a bit of basic psychology. (Why isn’t psychology a required degree subject in the ad industry? It surely will be one day, but that’s another story.) The human brain is very good at filtering out unwanted information simply because otherwise it would quickly overload. There is a system of filters in place that’s rather equivalent to the short-term memory in a computer. It stores the first seven seconds or so of data and then dumps it, whilst picking up the next batch of data and so on. Only if something significant pops up does this filter system wake up the rest of the brain and tell it to pay attention. The brain can then access this short-term memory to complete the picture. As an example, have you ever been in a room with an old-fashioned chiming clock? You might be reading a book or the paper and the clock is chiming the hour in the background. Someone asks you the time and even although you’ve been paying no conscious attention to the clock, you are able to recall the number of chimes accurately.
Being able to cut through this natural filter is of real importance to anyone making video content for the online world. Properly constructed, a short film can grab attention and hold it whereas the same film made in a different way will not. A few years ago, we were asked to comment on a (very expensive) ad for a gravy product. The ad was set on a rather romantic Russian steam train rushing through the Siberian wastes. Cut to inside the dining car and a dashing man helps the beautiful lady make her meal more appetising by using the hot water samovar to whip up some perfect gravy. The trouble was that the research showed little viewer engagement with the ad. One simple improvement would have been to re-edit precisely the same footage: open the ad with the front of the train ploughing through the snow with red flags whipping in the wind and the whistle screaming. Cut immediately to the gravy product on the dining car table. The opening of the ad would be sufficiently startling to cut through the brain’s filters and the very next shot containing the branding would register directly. Simples. St.Ivel have known this for years: they insist that their brand name is mentioned within the first five words of voiceover in all of their TV ads.
So if you are commissioning any video content, ask yourself if it will ever be shown in a “skip-ad” environment. If so, what can you put into the first three seconds to startle the viewer? If you can’t think of anything, at least use a shot of whatever it is you’re selling instead. It’ll be better than nothing which is the most likely alternative.

< Who in their right minds would skip this terrific integration of Hollywood superstar and sliced bread? (film by WCRS)


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