A mat­ter of time

SNACK­ABLE AND BITE-SIZED CON­TENT IS EV­ERY­WHERE, BUT WHAT ABOUT LONG-FORM? ARE WE RE­ALLY SO TIME STARVED THAT WE’RE NOT WILL­ING TO EN­GAGE WITH LONGER CON­TENT?

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Time is a pre­cious com­mod­ity. Un­prece­dented choice, com­bined with an al­ways-on econ­omy, have led mar­keters to be­lieve that con­sumers are not only time poor, they are un­able, or un­will­ing, to em­brace longer form con­tent.

The oft cited claim that the av­er­age con­sumer’s at­ten­tion span has dropped to eight sec­onds – one se­cond less than that of a gold­fish – has been widely cir­cu­lated, while Face­book users spend an av­er­age of only 1.7 sec­onds with any piece of mo­bile con­tent on the plat­form, ac­cord­ing to Face­book IQ, the so­cial me­dia gi­ant’s own in­sights unit.

Whether you be­lieve these find­ings to be rel­e­vant – or even true – the dam­age has been done. The fact is that many brands and their agen­cies have re­treated from longer form con­tent in the face of shrink­ing en­gage­ment. Five-se­cond Youtube ads, 15-se­cond In­sta­gram videos, as well as end­less in­dus­try talks pon­tif­i­cat­ing the value of brevity and ‘snack­able con­tent’, have led mar­keters to be­lieve that the shorter a piece of con­tent the bet­ter.

And yet this ar­guably paints a onesided, al­most dis­torted view, of re­al­ity. Any­body who analy­ses their own me­dia con­sump­tion will be able to tell you that the de­mand for longer, more en­ter­tain­ing, more en­gag­ing con­tent is on the rise, coun­ter­ing the as­ser­tion that at­ten­tion spans have di­min­ished.

“Long-form con­tent is ac­tu­ally mak­ing a mas­sive resur­gence,” says Karim Yusuf, cre­ative di­rec­tor at hug dig­i­tal. “Now there’s In­sta­gram

TV, Face­book Watch, and Youtube Pre­mium, all fight­ing for a piece of long-form cake. The truth is peo­ple have an in­fi­nite at­ten­tion span as long as they’re en­ter­tained. If they’re watch­ing a bad ad, then yeah, bet­ter make it as short as pos­si­ble. But if it’s awe­some, the sky’s the time limit.”

The dom­i­nant in­dus­try thought is that con­sumers don’t have the time to con­sume a brand’s con­tent. But the truth is that, in an era of un­lim­ited choice, con­sumers have sim­ply de­vel­oped highly ef­fec­tive fil­ters, cut­ting out rub­bish and fo­cussing only on con­tent that grabs their at­ten­tion and holds it.

How else to ex­plain the dis­par­ity be­tween al­leged at­ten­tion span deficits and the binge-watch­ing of Net­flix boxsets? Or the fact that the sale of phys­i­cal books (es­pe­cially in the UK) hit record lev­els in 2017? Peo­ple are will­ing to spend time on con­tent if it piques their in­ter­est, de­spite be­ing time poor.

“If any­thing, we’re pay­ing more at­ten­tion than ever be­fore,” wrote Publi­cis Me­dia’s pres­i­dent of dig­i­tal in­vest­ment, He­len Lin, in Me­dia Vil­lage. “What has changed, how­ever, is our tol­er­ance for time wasters.” What does this mean for ad­ver­tis­ers, she asked. “It means at­ten­tion is avail­able, but the bar has been raised. If you re­ally want some­one’s at­ten­tion, you have to earn it.”

“What mar­keters and agen­cies have failed in do­ing is pro­vid­ing the right sort of nar­ra­tive to the right en­vi­ron­ment with the sim­ple un­der­stand­ing that your au­di­ence is no longer sit­ting idly wait­ing to be en­ter­tained,” says Billy Baz, group ac­count di­rec­tor at J. Wal­ter Thomp­son Beirut. “They are ac­tive par­tic­i­pants that want to get in­volved. The more en­ter­tain­ing and im­mer­sive the ex­pe­ri­ence the bet­ter… (at the right time).”

So has the value of time been mis­judged?

“In a word, yes,” says Baz. “It is rudi­men­ta­r­ily sim­ple. Time is rel­a­tive to a pro­lif­er­a­tion of fac­tors and we have to en­sure that our nar­ra­tive fits into par­tic­i­pants’ be­hav­iour. What do your par­tic­i­pants want and when? We’re pretty cer­tain that long-form con­tent is con­sumed on­line. Look at Net­flix. Its use of its par­tic­i­pants’ data is ex­cep­tion­ally de­vel­oped and, dare we say, ma­ture. When mar­keters and agen­cies alike are de­vel­op­ing their con­tent strat­egy they have to in­cor­po­rate the brand’s land­scape as well as the con­sumer be­hav­iour within it, and with this an un­der­stand­ing around a view to op­ti­mis­ing con­tent based on the data gath­ered. Mar­keters can then main­tain brand rel­e­vancy and make in­formed de­ci­sions on for­mat.”

Short-form con­tent is not go­ing any­where soon, such is its ver­sa­til­ity, but its use should not pre­clude longer work.

“You can tell a story in a few sec­onds or in a few hours,” says Yusuf. “Both have uses de­pend­ing on what state the con­sumer is in. When they’re on-the-go, they’re in scroll-mode and don’t have time for you, hence make your con­tent short. But if they’re sit­ting on the couch, then make it en­ter­tain­ing and as long as you like.

“I truly be­lieve the longer a per­son stays en­ter­tained by your brand, the more likely they are to re­mem­ber and rec­om­mend you. That rec­om­men­da­tion from a friend or fam­ily mem­ber is far more pow­er­ful than any paid ad.”

What mar­keters and agen­cies have failed in do­ing is pro­vid­ing the right sort of nar­ra­tive to the right en­vi­ron­ment with the sim­ple un­der­stand­ing that your au­di­ence is no longer sit­ting idly wait­ing to be en­ter­tained. - Billy Baz, group ac­count di­rec­tor at J. Wal­ter Thomp­son Beirut. Long-form con­tent is ac­tu­ally mak­ing a mas­sive resur­gence… The truth is SHRSOH KDYH DQ LQÀQLWH at­ten­tion span as long as they’re en­ter­tained. - Karim Yusuf, cre­ative di­rec­tor at hug dig­i­tal.

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