Are You Still With Me?

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(By Bob McCurdy) Take a guess as to what year these articles were written:

– “The Nation’s Attention Span Has Become Terribly Short”
– “The Nation’s Attention Span Shrinks”

If you guessed 1991, which I am sure you didn’t, you were correct. Think they have gotten shorter since?

Diminished attention spans were already an issue three decades ago, before the Internet, video games, speed dating, Snapchat, Twitter, et al. Yet in 2019, :60s continue to be one of the two most popular commercial lengths in contrast to our “sound bite” culture.

As Bob Dylan wrote in 1964, “The times they are a changing,” and so are our attention spans. Research has indicated that, today, it stands at eight seconds — a decrease of 33% in only a couple of decades.

A creative director said to me that sitting down to write a :60 commercial is akin to sitting down to write Gone With The Wind. They are obviously not easy on the writer, often containing the kitchen sink, and not easy on the listener. The takeaway: let nothing get in the way of “tightness” — making the spot as long as necessary but as short as possible.

In 2008, working with Katz’s Bob Case, we created the following website that highlighted radio’s ability to communicate a powerful, creative message in several seconds. It’s likely more relevant today than when created and is worth taking a listen. Since it was built in “Flash” you might need to click on “enable Flash.” It also includes some other ways to creatively configure commercial messaging.

The other day, one media director mentioned to me that the radio listener was changing but radio wasn’t, suggesting that stations sounded largely the same as they did 40 years ago. He went on to warn that if radio and its advertising didn’t begin to change with the times, that it “risked finding itself out of sync with its listeners.”

A 2018 ARF/TVision study showed that only 3% of TV ads are :60s. It’s a path we should investigate, as 60 seconds today could be too big of an envelope for most commercials and be truly out of sync in this age of rapid communication and reduced attention spans.

When it comes to programming, it’s been said what’s not played is as important as what is. Maybe this applies to creative lengths as well. Do other audio options air sixties? Other media? Just might be time to become a reductionist.

Thanks for staying with me until the end. Your attention span is longer than a goldfish’s.

Bob McCurdy is Vice President of Sales for the Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected]

4 COMMENTS

  1. First, it is an honor to participate in this forum among so many I admire and respect.

    Great piece! But I offer an alternative perspective.

    I think shorter attention span is one of the biggest fallacies in media and advertising. I’m not sure how they measure “attention span” but if they are shrinking why were the top grossing movies of 2018 so long? Number one, Black Panther was two hours, 15 minutes and #2 Avengers: Endgame: three hours, two minutes!

    Why did so many binge-watch all 68 episodes of Game Of Thrones? I don’t even play golf, but I watched every second of this year’s Masters and then watched the replay! And my wife can watch those bad Lifetime Channel movies all day and night!

    Content is still king. What you say is always more important than how you say it. Copy is the art and production the frame. Promise of benefit based on the #1 appeal is the heart of any great ad.

    Long copy, equally written, always outperforms short copy. An equally written 60 will always outperform an equally written 30. These are not my opinions, these are rules discovered long ago by masters long since passed.

    TV vs. radio spot length? Think about it. Isn’t every 30 second TV ad really a SIXTY? Dual sensory input: 30 seconds video + 30 seconds audio = 60 seconds!

    Again, great piece! Great topic! Enjoyed!

    Send me an e-mail and I’ll send you a foolproof system to writing local direct radio ads that drive traffic, move present inventory, flow cash and build indestructible retail image. No questions, just answers. No catch, free.

    [email protected]

    • I agree. I could write a 2-minute commercial that could keep people’s attention. In fact, people write 15-minute commercials (called Podcasts) and people can’t get enough. Creativity (which I guess is also “content”) will capture a listeners attention …8-seconds or much, much longer.

  2. Bob, there is no question that with shrinking attention spans listeners put the premium on knowing immediately why not to tune away. We have been operating on the basis that getting your premise out there within 15 seconds or less is an absolute must. Like any other selling communication, “what’s in it for me” is the first priority. Often we set up longer messaging with 10 second units that bring the listener along, sort of like sampling the sell, and provide the reason to act and call to action in short comments around content that is of clear value to the listener, solves a problem, relates to their lifestyle, etc., that listeners feel was of value for their time investment. Content, not just a come on. It’s worked for us for years.

  3. I am satisfied, Bob, that playing a :60 – written and delivered by a garden rake – could be an effective strategy. But, only if the rake’s copy performance was appealing at an emotional level and included multiple sensory references.
    At that point, so-called “attention spans” would no longer be a factor.
    Unfortunately, since clever garden rakes are such a rarity, their application can hardly reinforce the point – not to the satisfaction of most principals.
    Local, and many larger, radio advertisers demand the same ol’ advertising fare as has been (gladly) dumped on them for decades. But, they also want it to be more effective. Oh, yeah. And cheaper, too.
    Get my attention. Hold my attention. Sell me something.
    Might work. 🙂

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