Super-Short Attention Span Theater

Peter Shankman wrote a post today re: the ubiquity and ridiculousness of “Predictions” posts.  It’s good, funny and smart so you should go read it.

E010781One phrase Pete used grabbed me.  “Super-Short Attention Span Theater.”  Pete prayed, “May 2013 be the year that our industry truly understands that the consumer attention span drops by an order of magnitude each year.”  That’s pretty self-evident, ain’t it?  As far back as 2002 researchers were noting that human/web cyborgs (that’s us, by the way) had attention spans of approximately 9–seconds… equivalent to a goldfish.

As marketers how do we deal with this?

Answer #1 is likely Twitter. 140–characters. Boom. Done. Want more eyeballs to see those tweets?  Promote them.  It’s okay.  Consumers are warming up to it. It’s how things work on the Web.

Answer #2, you also already know: 2012 was clearly the Year of the Infographic.  While we’ve been abused by marketers who insisted on ramming far too much “info” into their “graphics,” the concept of at-a-glance content is clearly a winner.

So what else will feature in the Super-Short Attention Span Theater?

Photography. Everyone loves a funny meme … but only a brave and funny few will genuinely explore those.  Meanwhile, marketers should also investigate other, more sober but still cool ideas for how to incorporate photography into engagement strategies.

Newsjacking. Via my friend David Meerman Scott (p.s. dude, we’re overdue for a lunch), who describes it in his eponymous book as “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.”  You’ve gotta be judicious and ever-careful to not be exploitative but this is quick-hit stuff and can ensure that elements of your story surf a bigger wave.

Much shorter videos. Forget virality, think snackability.  If you’ve nabbed a consumer’s attention for the 5–seconds it takes for them to view a synopsis of your video, e.g., in a clever Facebook post, they’ll likely click to watch a video that’s sub 45–seconds. One minute vids? Probably too long, unless you’ve got something special on tap.

Facebook posts that never, ever require a fan to “click to read more.”

Curated content. You don’t need to create everything, you know. I’ve argued that up to 70% of the brand’s outbound marketing can consist of curated content. Few take me up on this suggestion; it has a subversive “Not Invented Here” flavor to most clients. But if your company gains recognition for its ability to identify and promote “other cool stuff” in the industry (and especially if you’re doing this in a brief, neat way), how is that not a win?  It’ll mean folks pay closer attention to the 30% of your stuff that does matter.

“Togglegoodies.” I just made that up. You like? — More and more often you’ll see content that adjusts on-demand, e.g., infographics with built-in interactivity, as you might see in a children’s museum display. They’ll have toggles and switches; they’ll change as you scroll; they’ll feature embedded video. Here’s a great example from the BBC, which allows readers to “take a dive 11,000 meters down” into an ocean trench.

Surely I’m missing something. What else?

Posted on: December 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm By Todd Defren
5 Responses to “Super-Short Attention Span Theater”


  • Andrew Davis says:


    Thanks for clarifying. I’m not sure I agree with more content more often. I actually think you can be more successful by just owning one specific time in the minds of the consumer.

    For example, Say Media, delivers me an e-mail every friday called Friday Venn. (They own 2 minutes with me every Friday at 7:58 am when they send it out.) I’ve built a relationship with that content. I love it. I share it. I encourage others to subscribe. I think that long-term, content branded relationship is more valuable than churning through content. (Hope that makes sense.)

    Here’s the link to Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. (BTW, I wrote about this in my book – crap – shameless plug…)

    Thanks again for sparking the conversation!

  • Andrew Davis says:

    Thanks so much for the interesting post. However, I actually think that all this ‘snackable’ short content isn’t the biggest opportunity for brands. In fact, this kind of content encourages chasing the social stream, when in fact one of the biggest opportunities is to create higher-value content that actually builds a deeper relationship with the audience you’re targeting.

    In fact, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a brand that saw a huge increase in revenue after the release of a feature-length documentary. 90-minutes of valuable content. Literally, hundreds of thousands of people (maybe millions by now) have watched the entire film. The film has inspired people to change their behavior.

    It’s not short, snackable or curated content… it’s actually long-form, deep, wonderfully inspired content.

    Anyway, I just figured I’d offer up my opinion.

    • Todd Defren says:

      Hi Drew, thanks for weighing in… I acknowledged (albeit cursorily!) that there’s room for long-form content: “One minute vids? Probably too long, unless you’ve got something special on tap.” There is ALWAYS a place for “deep, wonderfully inspired content”! Clearly your client had something special to share (link please?)

      My point to marketers, really, is to not fool themselves that their every content element is priceless. I advocate for more content, more often, that’s 80% good/short (i.e. chasing the social stream) and 20% inspired (which will truly move the needle traction-wise). I get your point about “chasing the social stream” but reject the notion that that is always a bad thing. If everyone waited til they were genuinely inspired, what a “cyber desert” we’d live in. ;)

Leave a Reply

Show some social media love would ya?

RSS logo Subscribe by Email

RSS logo RSS Feed


PostRank Topblogs 2009 - #3 in PR

View Todd 

Defren's profile on LinkedIn