Your Thumb is a Dictator!

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I went to a panel from Advertising Week Europe called Pushing Beyond the Three Second Rule. As the name might suggest, the panel was discussing our increasingly short attention spans.

We may have a five-second rule when it comes to food, but apparently, even three seconds is a push when it comes to content. On the panel was Harvey Cossell, Florian Alt, Alistair Campbell, Emily Forbes and Jane Kinnaird. Here are some of the things they talked about.

Thought number one. Distribution is very important. You’ve got to think about it before you think about your execution. It’s the first time I’ve heard the phrase ‘Distribution Strategy’ but I now know it’s very important to have one. Makes sense I guess. Whatever platform your audience views your content on changes how they respond to it.

You need to decide what the objective of your campaign is first. Are you trying to raise awareness or increase brand loyalty? Sell a message or tell a story? Apparently short content doesn’t increase brand loyalty but I’m not totally sure why.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn

You need to constantly evolve. This is my favourite of all the things I learned. It’s lovely because it means we’re constantly changing and if you fail it’s okay. Just learn what you did wrong and stop doing it. I’m a student at the School of Communication Arts 2.0 and our Dean is constantly telling us that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. It’s from Alvin Toffler’s The Future Shock. This means that if people stop watching your content, it’s really important to ask them why. Were they offended? Busy? Or worse, just bored? A constant feedback loop is the only way of beating apathy.

Our relationship to time is changing. Thirty seconds now sounds like an aeon. This scares me. I truly believe we have some cultural responsibility to fight against this. Particularly in today’s political climate. Young people have to stay abreast of what’s going on in the world. We need to understand. Some things are complicated and can’t be broken down or regurgitated as a bite-sized nugget that’s only half the story. We need the whole story, even if takes longer than 30 seconds. I also worry it’s a little infantilising to assume most humans have the attention span of a goldfish. Maybe we just aren’t making stuff that’s good enough most the time.

Emily Forbes said that social media is a way of immediately jumping into a global conversation. What a lovely thing to say. Such a powerful tool that you don’t get with TV. But perhaps TV has charm in a different way. We aren’t made to process so much, so quickly, all the time. There’s a comfort to your own TV, your own living room and no opinion other than yours and your mum’s.

We need to start focusing on how we can make stuff that forces people to watch. Instead of just thinking about why they aren’t. Here are some of the tips I picked up. I devised a handy acronym called APRICOTS. You listening?

Audio. It’s a challenge. Design for sound off. Delight with sound on.

Perspectives. People like to see new ones. Behind the scenes footage is a good way of doing this.

Relevant. This is confusing because I’m not sure why anyone would electively be irrelevant.

Idea. Get yourself a good one and cling onto it like Rose with that door in The Titanic.

Common ground. Talk about something you have in common with your audience.

Opening. Wow them darling!

Tone of voice. Try a darn new one.

Storytelling. We’ve told stories since the beginning of time. They get us. We get them.

Someone in the audience asked about Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner. They said it was longer than three seconds and people were actively choosing to watch it. So wasn’t it just about making more stuff like that – just really good stuff. Who cares how short it is. If it’s good, people will watch.

There is no fancy formula and that’s what makes advertising so exciting. The answer is pretty simple. It’s all about a good idea and that’s what safeguards our jobs against the robots. We just need to make stuff that is idea led, not white noise in a scattergun approach to achieving the ‘viral’ Mecca. Go back to the beginning. An idea you can’t wait to tell your friends about.

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