Brands should look beyond attention, and instead consider how to create and distribute content so good that nobody wants to turn it off, writes Ash Stedman.

The year 2022 has been dubbed ‘a defining year for attention’. This focus is deeply needed. Attention has become a scarce resource – a report by Dentsu found only one-third of adverts get the audience’s full attention. Where possible, people will skip ads or look away.

Brands are increasingly fighting for crumbs. The Dentsu report highlights that adverts that are only seen peripherally can be effective. Advertisers seem to be content with this. It’s time for a step-change, not only in how we measure and plan for attention, but also in how brands create strategies with attention at the heart.

Answering the ‘why’ question

We know customer behaviour is changing, with increased consideration, particularly around more expensive products such as luxury and automotive. The conversation is shifting from how and where do I buy, to why should I buy? The vital part of the relationship the customer requires with the brand is the ‘why’ – why that brand, that product, or that service over one of the many others readily available?

A few seconds isn’t enough to communicate this. As we drive down into consideration and purchase intent, brands need to move from entertaining to informing the customer. In fact, we’d argue the entire marketing funnel needs a new section added – the ‘why’. Brand strategies need to consider this to build advocacy among target audiences, particularly when it comes to younger consumers who are more driven by values than traditional metrics like price and convenience.

In our current ecosystem, media metrics are changing towards ‘meeting expectations’, rather than expectations being set for certain metrics.

Reach is often praised, but with little understanding of the quality of that reach. Native video distribution may sell on completed views, but we also know that embedded video will be carefully placed between content that takes roughly the same time to read, and it’s not always fully in view and often has the sound off. That ‘completed view’ relies upon the viewer having spent 15 or 30 seconds on a screen in which the video is visible, but it in no way guarantees attention.

Brands need a clear roadmap for content distribution

The current advertising content ecosystem is also almost unbearably cluttered. The simple act of reading an article online is so peppered with pop-ups, pop-outs, auto-play videos, skins, stickies, clickbait and other distractors, that it’s no wonder attention is such a valuable resource and advertisers now fight to “stop the scroll”.

It’s difficult to imagine this situation changing, given that most media is still ad-funded and ad-centric. Even publishers that charge a subscription fee for their editorial content still serve you ads. We could argue that the user experience needs to be thoroughly cleaned up, but in reality it’s an experience we’re stuck with.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for brands to have a clear roadmap of distribution for their content, and not simply waste great video content by ‘cookie-cutting’ it into 15- or 30-second slots to fit the platform.

The video distribution strategy needs to be considered alongside the production conversation. Native distribution, for example, is just one step of many in a strategy. Branded content should be created to specifically fit different platforms, with different running times which include longer-form content that secures undivided customer attention, in the correct environments.

Current ways of measuring attention are challenging because they’re deemed intrusive and rely on accessing a users’ camera for eyeball tracking, which has privacy implications. Given that many people use ad blockers, asking for consent to use their camera isn’t likely to go down well. Nonetheless this is a challenge the advertising industry needs to solve to be able to accurately measure attention, which is why huge networks like Dentsu are throwing their weight behind it with their report.

The next piece of the puzzle

For now, however, the time customers spend with a brand and that brand’s content must be high quality and a valuable experience. Creating binge-worthy content the viewer wants to spend time with by presenting that in a distraction-free, cinematic Netflix-style experience leaves the customer with nothing else to do but sit back, relax, and enjoy the content.

We see longer-form content as the next vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to securing customer attention. The advertising industry needs to grapple not only with the question of how to secure and measure attention, but also with how it can create and distribute content, made by brands, that’s so good nobody wants to turn it off.