TORONTO: If consumers are highly digitally engaged, they are more likely to have shortened attention spans over time but are very alert at the beginning of a task, according to a new study designed, in part, for advertisers.

Researchers from tech giant Microsoft Canada sought to test the effectiveness of communications in a changing media environment and how people behave in multiscreen environments.

As reported by The Globe and Mail, they conducted an online survey of 2,000 Canadian adults followed up by a study of 100 people carrying out tasks while their brainwaves were measured using electroencephalography (EEG).

The research found that digitally savvy consumers, of all ages, have high bursts of intense attention at the beginning of a task that then fades over a sustained period of time. However, much of the information is still committed to memory.

By contrast, less frequent digital users show lower levels of attention at the beginning of a task, but increased attention to detail over time.

With attention spans shown to drop away quickly among the digitally connected, the study concluded that ads aimed at this audience need to be direct and clear, rather like advertising on a billboard.

"We need to be more clear and concise with messaging as soon as possible – almost crafting headlines," explained Alyson Gausby, consumer insights lead at Microsoft Canada.

A second element of the research revealed that Canadian consumers appear to have become adept at multitasking and are able to react to background TV programmes even when they aren't watching them.

As Gausby put it: "They were still laughing at the jokes, or when there were auditory cues, such as a tense moment, they would all look up. … It's great news for marketers that multitasking doesn't reduce the potential impact of marketing."

Data sourced from The Globe and Mail; additional content by Warc staff